NFL fac­ing de­ci­sion on Raiders’ game

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - Ann Kil­lion is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle columnist. Email: akil­lion@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @annkil­lion

Here’s a ques­tion: If the NFL doesn’t seem to care very much about about its play­ers’ brains, will it care about their lungs?

That’s the ques­tion that hov­ers in the air over the Raiders this week, just like the thick smoke they’ve been prac­tic­ing in.

On Thurs­day, the Raiders cut short prac­tice again due to the poor air con­di­tions, caused by smoke from the blaz­ing Wine Coun­try fires. The team also moved prac­tice up to ear­lier in the day than usual, hop­ing for a bet­ter win­dow of air qual­ity.

Some play­ers, in­clud­ing Michael Crab­tree and Jalen Richard, wore white face masks while they prac­ticed.

“You can feel it out­side, it’s a lit­tle hard to breath and a cou­ple of guys say they could feel it in their throats,” Richard said. “It’s a short­ness of breath, kind of like a Den­ver al­ti­tude feel, ex­cept you can taste it.”

The Raiders made the face masks avail­able to all the play­ers. A Raiders spokesman said the sit­u­a­tion is be­ing mon­i­tored hour by hour. Air qual­ity in­dexes in­di­cate the air in Oakland could re­main “un­healthy,” through Sun­day. It cer­tainly was un­healthy in Alameda this week, caus­ing the av­er­age per­son to feel it in their lungs and those with any kind of lung con­di­tion to feel un­der siege.

The Air Qual­ity In­dex for Oakland on Thurs­day at 1 p.m. — ap­prox­i­mately 72 hours

be­fore game time — was 157. The rec­om­men­da­tion from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Air Now web­site is that: “Peo­ple with heart or lung dis­ease, older adults and chil­dren should avoid pro­longed or heavy ex­er­tion. Ev­ery­one else should re­duce pro­longed or heavy ex­er­tion.”

Michael Sig­nora, the league’s vice pres­i­dent of foot­ball com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said the league will “con­tinue to mon­i­tor air qual­ity con­di­tions in the Bay Area and are in close com­mu­ni­ca­tion with both the Raiders and Charg­ers, as well as lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.”

“At this point the game re­mains sched­uled for Sun­day in Oakland.”

Of course, there are much big­ger con­cerns than whether a foot­ball game is played. The Raiders, who have held train­ing camp ev­ery sum­mer in Napa since 1996, know that as well as any ath­letic team.

“That kind of stuff, that’s real life,” quar­ter­back Derek Carr said this week. “Our prayers are with them.”

But the show must go on. Some­where.

And though much of the pub­lic treats foot­ball play­ers like ma­chines who aren’t sup­posed to have health con­cerns or po­lit­i­cal points of view, they are hu­man with lungs made of tis­sue that aren’t sup­posed to ab­sorb smoke par­ti­cles.

In 2003, the NFL moved a home game for the San Diego Charg­ers to Ari­zona be­cause of wild­fires. The Mon­day night game against Mi­ami was moved with just 24 hours no­tice.

Air qual­ity wasn’t the main is­sue then. At the time, the park­ing lot at Qual­comm Sta­dium was be­ing used as an evac­u­a­tion cen­ter, and sur­round­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas had been evac­u­ated. Back then, the NFL said, “The res­i­dents of greater San Diego are suf­fer­ing from ter­ri­ble fires, and pub­lic health and safety are the ur­gent pri­or­i­ties.”

The game was moved to Sun Devil Sta­dium, and tick­ets were given away for free. The game drew a ca­pac­ity crowd.

The league would need to make a de­ci­sion as soon as pos­si­ble if it chooses to move Sun­day’s game. What would the op­tions be if the NFL de­cided to take such a step? Well, the 49ers are play­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on Sun­day, so Levi’s Sta­dium is avail­able. On Thurs­day, the air qual­ity in Santa Clara was bet­ter than in Oakland, with an AQI of 132, but still deemed “un­healthy for sen­si­tive groups.”

There’s also a nice big empty sta­dium in San Diego, the same sta­dium that was be­ing used as a fire evac­u­a­tion cen­ter 14 years ago. On Thurs­day, the San Diego mayor’s of­fice — in the height of irony — said it was will­ing to help the league that aban­doned the city and make Qual­comm avail­able. It would be in­ter­est­ing to see what the re­cep­tion for the Charg­ers would be in San Diego. We know what it would be for the Raiders.

“It would be like a home game,” Richard said.

The speed ath­letes like Richard — the other run­ning backs, the wide re­ceivers and the de­fen­sive backs — are the ones who would be most im­pacted by the un­healthy air.

“For sure, the more you’re ex­ert­ing your­self, the more you’re go­ing to feel it,” Richard said.

Also at risk will be any of the fans whose lungs may be com­pro­mised.

“It’s not good,” said de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ken Nor­ton Jr. “But we haven’t been out in it very of­ten. The lead­er­ship has done a good job of get­ting us on and off the field, so it hasn’t af­fected us in a neg­a­tive way.”

Not yet. But we don’t know what will hap­pen in the next few days.

Al Sarace­vic / The Chron­i­cle

The Raiders prac­tice un­der smoky skies on Wed­nes­day. The team cut short its work­out Thurs­day for a sec­ond straight day.

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