On Tuesday morning the Cleveland Browns had two players and three coaches test positive for COVID-19, including head coach and Kevin Stefanski and starting left guard Joel Bitonio. But that was just the first of several major distractions that came to the fore yesterday. A few hours later, two players who are projected to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday were cited for first-degree misdemeanor drag racing, those being left tackle Jedrick Wills, 21, and wide receiver Rashard Higgins, 26.
Both players went on to tweet about the incident, with Higgins’ subsequently-deleted tweets saying, “Foot slipped sorry,” And then: “Trying to get away from COVID.”
According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the attorney for both players, Kevin Spellacy, plans to plead not guilty for both players.
Conceivably things could’ve been worse for at least one of the two.
The police incident report says, “a marijuana joint was found in one of the cars but does not specify whose car,” notes the above-referenced Cleveland.com article. “An officer destroyed the joint at the scene, and recorded it on his body camera, the incident report says.” Neither player was charged with possession of marijuana.
According to Cleveland.com, Wills was also cited for speeding on November 29th of last year, this according to court records. In that incident, “an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper reported clocking Wills’ car at 82 mph in a 60-mph zone. He pleaded not guilty and the case is pending.”
Browns ‘Acting Head Coach’ Mike Priefer Called Out
At the same time, the news that Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as ‘acting head coach’ while Stefanski is sidelined led observers to highlight a homophobic statement that Priefer reportedly made in 2012 when he was special teams coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.
Ultimately, Priefer apologized for his behavior and the Vikings suspended him for three weeks, but he remained on staff in Minnesota through the 2018 season, after which he moved on to the same role with the Browns.
But Priefer’s sudden ascension into a high-profile role has prompted members of the media to remind NFL fans about his past behavior, which former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe related via Deadspin in early 2014.
Browns Have No New Positive Tests on Wednesday
Thus far on Wednesday, the Browns haven’t received any more bad news, either in terms of health or PR issues.
But the team’s practice facility remains closed, and the Browns planned to conduct a “virtual walk-through” as they continue preparations for the Steelers on Sunday.
And like the Steelers, the Browns still have to worry about new cases of COVID-19 sidelining players and coaches for this Sunday’s playoff game.
At his news conference on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin revealed that the first thing he does each day is check for phone for COVID-19 test results.
“Every morning a 6 a.m., I am looking at my phone waiting for verification of the previous day’s test results,” he said. “Are we in the clear or are we not and what necessary adjustments need to be made? What investigations if any need to be made? That has been our life, and not only ours here in Pittsburgh, but ours collectively as members of the National Football League since July.”
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