Dont'a Hightower is the Biggest Name to Opt Out of the NFL Season Yet, and He Won't Be the Last

Dont'a Hightower
Dont'a Hightower / Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Tuesday morning brought important news on the football front as reports surfaced that Pro Bowl New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower would be opting out of the 2020 NFL season. Hightower and his fiancé very recently had their first child, and in a statement to Ian Rapoport, the longtime Pats stalwart put it quite simply: he's more worried about health than football.

Hightower joins Marcus Cannon as the two New England starters who have opted out of the season in the last 12 hours. He is also the biggest name to do so thus far. Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who has a medical degree, was the first player to declare his intentions to miss this season when he released a statement last weekend.

This is only the beginning. While the NFL is in better shape than it was two weeks ago as far as COVID-19 guidelines are concerned for training camp, the Miami Marlins disaster served as a harsh reminder that attempting to hold a season without the benefit of a bubble environment is a nearly impossible task. Even Bruce Arians admitted that it's not a matter of if players get sick, it's how sick they get. That is not exactly an optimal work environment.

We remain on the course of things continuing to get worse before they get better. That is not me rooting for the coronavirus, it's just reality. Players recognize this as well as we do. Yes, they're well-compensated for the risks they will take and are statistically more likely to come out okay on the other side of a positive test as elite athletes mostly in their physical primes. But the long-term effects are still unknown, and the virus doesn't really care if you make millions of dollars and are in tip-top shape. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez is currently dealing with a heart condition stemming from his own bout with COVID-19.

Similar to the NBA, the biggest of big names seem unlikely to opt out. They likely feel they have a responsibility to lead the way here, and for some the opportunity to use their platform for social justice issues is worth the risk of infection. But there will be plenty of upper-tier players like Hightower who take a look at the landscape and decide it's just not worth it. It's only a matter of time.