While college athletics administrators roll out plans and protocols for managing a football season that's certain to be unlike any in recent memory, student-athletes have begun to voice their own concerns about their safety amid the pandemic, and others have threatened action to ensure it.
Student-athletes in the Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences have made headlines for pressing leaders to provide them with answers on player safety amid the pandemic.
The Washington Post reports that during a conference call between SEC leaders, medical advisers and football players, players were skeptical of leadership’s ability to provide a safe environment amid the coronavirus pandemic. An audio recording of the call was obtained by the Post.
“There are going to be outbreaks,” one official told players on the call. (The official didn’t identify himself, and an SEC spokesperson declined to identify him to the Post after the audio recording was obtained.) “We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”
Players on the call, part of the conference’s student-athlete leadership council, pressed leadership on a number of issues, with one player asking whether it was worth pushing for a season amid so much uncertainty.
Others asked what can be done to protect student-athletes when their campuses reopen in the fall. Mississippi linebacker MoMo Sanogo pointed out that when classes resume, student-athletes will have to mix with the general student population in an academic setting, and that the precautions student-athletes take may not protect them. College students, after all, will be college students.
An official, who was unidentified, responded to Sanogo saying, “As un-fun as it sounds ,the best thing that you can do is just try to encourage others to act more responsibly and not put yourself in those kinds of situations. I’m very comfortable with what we’ve done on campus. I’m concerned about what happens from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m.”
Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II said that while he recognized officials were doing their best, that amid all of the uncertainty, “it’s just kind of not good enough.”
“We want to play. We want to see football. We want to return to normal as much as possible. But it’s just that with all this uncertainty, all this stuff that’s still circulating in the air, y’all know it kind of leaves some of us still scratching my head,” Magee said. “I feel like the college campus is the one thing that you can’t control.”
Another player, who the Post did not identify, put many of the player concerns bluntly, asking: “If we were your kids, would y’all let us play in this same football season with the same protocols and uncertainty?”
Since the Post released its article on the audio recording, the SEC released a statement:
“The SEC hosts videoconferences with the SEC Football Student-Athlete Leadership Council to engage in candid conversation, share information and develop greater understanding of issues important to our student-athletes. … Wednesday a call was held, with the participation of our medical advisors, to provide insight and respond to student-athlete questions resulting from the unique environment produced by COVID-19. The information we gather while engaging with student-athletes helps inform Conference Decisions and provides an opportunity to share information with our campus leaders to further enhance our continuing support of the student-athlete experience.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey posted his own response to the story on Twitter, writing “While no tweet or quote fully captures every aspect of any meeting, the student-athletes participating on Wednesday’s Football Leadership Council videoconference concluded with this comment, ‘Thank you. We appreciate the information and hope we can do this again.’”
Meanwhile, a collective group of Pac-12 players from multiple schools have threatened to opt out of preseason camps and games unless a list of demands are met.
The Pac-12 player group published an article in The Players’ Tribune under the headline/hashtag #WeAreUnited, and provided a list of demands that included both items related to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as items calling for racial justice, fair compensation, protecting non-revenue sports and seeking long-term health insurance.
The group’s demands are divided into four broad categories: Health and safety protections; protect all sports; end racial injustice in sports and society; and economic freedom. Each item was subdivided with bullet points and action items for suggested steps, such as calling for cuts administrator and coach pay, as well as to facilities spending, as a means of protecting non-revenue sports.
The Pac-12 group is seeking a written guarantee from conference administrators on its demands — but ESPN reports that the conference has not heard from the group directly.
"Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics," a Pac-12 statement said. "We support our student-athletes using their voice and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics. As we have clearly stated with respect to our fall competition plans, we are, and always will be, directed by medical experts, with the health, safety and well being of our student athletes, coaches and staff always the first priority. We have made it clear that any student athlete who chooses not to return to competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected."