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Mike Preston: As Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak grows, heads should roll and Harbaugh needs to step forward | COMMENTARY

The NFL should conduct a thorough investigation of the Ravens and the recent COVID-19 outbreak involving players and staff members and terminate any employees who were negligent in violating the league’s protocols.

In recent months, the NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 and the Las Vegas Raiders $500,000 and coach Jon Gruden $150,000, in addition to stripping the Raiders of a sixth-round draft pick, for violating those protocols. But it is time to take more severe action, especially with many medical experts predicting a spike in the death toll this winter from COVID-19.

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Eight Ravens players have been added to the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, and quarterback Lamar Jackson was revealed to have tested positive Thursday night. The Baltimore Sun has confirmed through multiple sources that strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders has been disciplined for not routinely wearing his mask and proximity tracker, which the NFL requires as part of its contact-tracing efforts, and for ignoring potential COVID-19 symptoms as he worked with players.

Disciplined? What exactly does that entail?

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More than 250,000 people in this country have died from this pandemic, so there should be zero tolerance. Either follow the protocol or find a new job.

But let’s look behind the curtain here.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in June that some of the new NFL protocols imposed on teams as their facilities reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic were “humanly impossible.” At the time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, cast doubt on the season operating smoothly, saying it would be difficult for the NFL to run without a hitch if it didn’t insulate its players, coaches and staff in a “bubble.”

“I think everybody’s going to do their best. It’s a new world,” Harbaugh said in June when asked about Fauci’s comments. “You can look at it any way you want to look at it, but I’m not going to run for cover and I don’t think the NFL is either. But they’re going to try to be safe and secure. And safety is going to come first, and the health of all us involved in the game, and the fans, are going to be a major priority.”

The team must be in disarray right now. Players have to be asking themselves: Who can they trust again? Why wasn’t Saunders monitored more closely?

But the biggest question is how could an authority figure such as Saunders ignore symptoms, especially when he worked with so many players?

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who reportedly tested positive earlier this week after considering sitting out this season because of his moderate asthma, tweeted Friday: “We just want to contain this outbreak! Speaking from experience ... you don’t want to catch covid! This virus is brutal! I pray no one else has to go thru this. This is bigger than football.”

Harbaugh has to address the situation because unlike team president Dick Cass and general manager Eric DeCosta, he is the face of the organization.

But the players can’t be totally exonerated. It was only a matter of time before the virus spread. If they saw Saunders without a mask, why didn’t they report it?

Some players have been seen out in the city dining and socializing without masks or social distancing. When a player is 18 to 28 years old and makes millions of dollars, it’s hard to keep them corralled or in a “bubble.” It’s nearly impossible.

Before this week started, the Ravens had lost three of their past four games.

If other star quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers contracted the disease, would the games still be played?

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The NFL has contingency plans in place if games are lost. Owners have already talked about expanding the postseason field and playing regular-season games in Week 18 if too many are called off.

However, the Ravens have more than a playoff appearance at stake. It starts with the trust factor among the coaches, the players and the front office. It was there at the beginning of the season, but like most of the country, the Ravens might have experienced pandemic fatigue.

Now they might be getting a wake-up call from the NFL because this virus is bigger than football. It’s about life.

Somebody has to pay for bad decisions that were made.

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