College football stars make desperate pleas to save 2020 season: #WeWantToPlay
It started with a tweet from Clemson star Trevor Lawrence, a minute after midnight. It snowballed in a flash.
And it could be the start of the first free-labor union movement.
With the fate of the college football season hanging in the balance, some of the most prominent players in the game from all five Power 5 conferences took to Twitter overnight Monday to voice support for both the games to be played and for the athletes’ voices to be heard.
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"I think it can save fall college sports in general," Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, who helped organize a unity statement among Big Ten players last week, told the Free Press early Monday morning. "Obviously, you know there are gonna be risks with playing sports this fall, especially in the midst of COVID-19. But I think, as athletes, we feel that if the schools are unified and uniform in doing everything in their power to ensure our well-being and safety that that's a risk that a lot of people are willing to take.
"But then also those who aren't willing to take that risk, there shouldn't be retribution against them or they shouldn't be looked down upon. It's definitely an extremely tough decision to decide to opt out, and making that decision doesn't come lightly and it doesn't come easily. Those are also athletes who have worked their entire lives to get to the point that they're at. It's definitely respectable for anyone who decides to opt out, and it's respectable for anyone who decides to opt in."
Lawrence joined a number of his Clemson teammates and Miami QB D'Eriq King among players from the Atlantic Coast Conference lobbying for the season to be played. Reynolds joined with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and running back Master Teague III among those from the Big Ten. Alabama RB Najee Harris from the Southeastern Conference, Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma State RB Chubba Hubbard from the Big 12. And California offensive lineman Jake Curhan — who helped create the #WeAreUnited campaign among players in the Pac-12 — all joined in to try and exact change from college football’s leadership and to let university presidents know #WeWantToPlay.
Reynolds said players from three main groups — the Pac-12 players who threatened a boycott last week; the Big Ten players who focused on creating safer environments but planned to play; and others such as Lawrence and teammate Darien Rencher who want the season to move ahead — felt their hashtags were being pitted against each other on social media. So leaders organized a video conference call Sunday night to learn about what each other wanted.
"I kind of came to a better understanding of where they were coming from," Reynolds said. "It made me realize we were kind of coming from similar places. ... We just talked through everything for about 30-45 minutes and came up with the statement that's been circulating."
Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs created a graphic for the group of players — more and more around the country sent it out with their own tweets into the wee hours of the morning — that put forth five demands the #WeAreUnited and #WeWantToPlay groups said were “representative of the players of all five Power 5 conferences.”
- “We want to play football this season.”
- “Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college-athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.”
- “Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.”
- “Guarantee eligibility whether a players choose to play the season or not.”
- “Use our voices to establish open communication & trust between players and officials; ultimately create a College Football Players Association.”
“People are just as much, if not more (at) risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence wrote in a series of three tweets earlier Sunday evening. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/their future and having to go back to that.
“Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season incentivizes players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting covid because the season/(teammates’) safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions.”
Reynolds said the players "all kind of knew it would take off pretty quickly" because of the buzz from reports of the Big Ten's potential cancellation of its season and with the star players who got behind their movement.
"We knew there was a very large platform behind them," he said. "Once a statement of that magnitude was put out in the public, it would take off."
It is perhaps the most unified moment in the history of college football, if not all of college sports. It essentially is an open letter to athletic directors and universities that football players are on the verge of uniting.
But will their words and the threat of potential unionization be enough to dissuade university presidents and commissioners at the Football Bowl Subdivision level from canceling the upcoming season, as well as other fall sports?
Big Ten presidents met for the second straight day Sunday night, with Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports reporting they are close to canceling the fall season but have not made the final decision. Pac-12 and Big 12 officials are reportedly scheduled to meet Tuesday, ACC leadership on Wednesday and the SEC on Thursday, according to Sports Illustrated.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and one of the members of the group advising the NCAA on COVID-19, told the Free Press on Saturday it appears virtually impossible for college football to proceed this fall. Two key reasons: delays in getting test results coupled with the volume needed, particularly for administering them multiple times per week, and “the risk of community spread impinging on the sport” more than transmitting the disease on the field.
“Earlier on, I thought there was ways to make it feasible until we started to see the flare ups occur in some of the southern and western states, and we didn't have that kind of pressure on testing that we're seeing now,” Adalja said. “I do think it's becoming unlikely that you're going to have any kind of real season as we move forward in the fall. I think this is something that they could probably do in the spring. But I think right now, it's getting close to the wire, and I would not be surprised if there isn't any kind of football season.”
In the historic blur of the moment and the bleariness of the late hour, Reynolds took a long pause to ponder a question, one sure to be asked multiple times of multiple players in the coming days and months: is this a unity movement or a move to unionize?
"I think it's more like a unity movement for right now," he said. "It's not necessarily just a football unity movement in a sense, because I was one of the leaders of College Athlete Unity, and we're working with all sports across all divisions (of the NCAA). So it's one of those things where, right now, we're at a point in history where college athletes are unifying and they're really coming together to share a similar message, the same message even, across all levels, all conferences. So I think this is kind of an extension of that."
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