Article Brief

College athletes' concerns and a call for action emerge as public officials, the NCAA, conferences, and colleges prepare for the return of college sports nationwide. Former UCLA football player Elijah Wade spearheads push to protect players...

The return of college football has been a hot topic over the last several weeks.  The NCAA has given approval for football programs to begin workouts on June 1st.  The NCAA says colleges are expected to “self-police” matters of health and safety and can choose whether or not to follow any NCAA guidelines, including those related to COVID-19. 

Executive Director Ramogi Huma stated, “Colleges will promise to self-police COVID-19 guidelines when it comes to their athletic programs.  However, self-policing is responsible for the trail of seriously injured, abused, and dead bodies that has plagued college sports for years.  We can’t trust colleges to protect the health of their players or the public.  If a star quarterback wakes up on game day with a fever and cough, you can expect him to play with or without a COVID-19 test at many of these colleges.  We’ve seen players kept in games on national TV with obvious concussion symptoms, we’ve seen university officials cover up the sexual assaults and mistreatment of countless college athletes, about half of athletic trainers report coaches pressuring them to return seriously injured players to competition.  It will be no different with unenforced COVID-19 guidelines unless public officials act.”

There has been a notable silence among the college athletes who will be participating in these games.  Some players have expressed fear of retaliation if they raise COVID-19 concerns as their coaches and athletic programs prepare to return.

UCLA Student Council member and former UCLA football player Elijah Wade has begun interviewing UCLA athletes, the majority of whom are on the football team, about the return to college sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.  A recent American Prospect article written by Ted Tatos citing public health agencies and studies outlining factors that put college football players at higher COVID-19 risks, “Playing Games With College Athletes’ Lives”, was the first piece of information some of the players received about health risks they may face when their sport resumes. 

While the mortality data for people in college athletes’ age group is encouraging, there has been little focus on the potential long-term health risks and medical expenses college athletes and their families may face if they contract COVID-19.  While a number of colleges have announced that they will soon resume football, the colleges have said nothing about what they will do with athletes deemed “vulnerable” by the NCAA such as those athletes with asthma, high blood pressure, and other health issues that put them at higher risk of coronavirus complications.

Wade took the health risks outlined in the American Prospect article and the concerns of UCLA athletes that he interviewed to the UCLA Student Council which, in turn, voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution asking Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles County and City, the UC Regents, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, and Athletic Director Martin Jarmond to ensure various COVID-19 related protections for college athletes:

  • Include college athletes on all return to practice and competition task forces.
  • Ensure college athletes are informed about the risks COVID-19 poses to them, their families, and their communities so that they can make informed decisions.
  • Allowing college athletes a choice of whether or not to return to college sport activities during COVID-19 without fear of reduction/cancellation of their scholarships, threats, or retaliation.
  • The identification and enforcement of health and safety standards by public health officials regarding COVID-19, serious injury, abuse, and death related to college sports participation.

            (Read full resolution included at the bottom of this release). 

The resolution points out that governmental and university decision making and discussions about re-opening college sports has not included college athletes or informed them of related COVID-19 health risks.

Wade stated, “Yesterday myself along with my fellow council member’s voted unanimously on a resolution in support of Student-Athlete Agency and Autonomy. Student athletes have expressed concerns in regard to the lack of information and communication by UCLA and public officials on decisions currently being made on their return to campus for practice and competition. As of today, none of the task forces created for the return to practice or competition of student athletes has included the voices of those same students. This has created fear and confusion among some within the athletic community. They have concerns that their health and well being is being weighed against money for the university, its coaches, and administration.  As we look at the rampant negligence and mistreatment of student-athletes in NCAA sports, it’s clear that colleges can not be trusted with policing themselves on any health recommendations passed down by state or local officials.”

The NCPA has endorsed the resolution and is asking all public officials across the nation issuing COVID-19 related orders and university leaders to adopt these safeguards.  Those safeguards should also ensure colleges pay for any short-term or long-term COVID-19 related medical expenses for their players

To be clear, Wade, the UCLA Student Council, and the NCPA are not seeking to dictate when college sports reopen, but see an urgent need for safeguards as college sports return.

The idea of forcing college athletes to play in a pandemic without a choice to opt out and keep their scholarship is counter to the educational mission professed by the NCAA and its colleges.  That educational mission allows these colleges to receive billions of dollars in state and federal funds, and to generate $14 billion in total athletics revenue without paying taxes.  Regular students on academic scholarships do not have to fear losing their scholarship if they do not engage in extracurricular on-campus activities during this pandemic.

Every UCLA athlete that Wade interviewed supports the resolution.  While asking Wade to keep their identities confidential, they voiced a number of concerns including the following:

  • “My coach said student-athletes may be used this fall as a ‘sample group’ for housing to see if they separate us individually or keep us forced in condensed/shared rooms.  This is definitely a health concern for student-athletes as it seems like we have no say in this decision.”
  • “The governor is at a position where athletes are not the biggest of his worries, but the health standards and protection of athletes should be regarded the same as all UC students.  If things are determined to be unsafe for a UC student, why would a student-athlete be treated with less consideration?”
  • “There has been no contact to players from the NCAA or PAC-12.  My coaches did call and ask around the end of March if I’d be willing to come back if the school was open.  I said yes because if not, I’d risk not playing.”

In response to whether or not players who choose not to play should be able to keep their scholarship:

  • “Yes because if not, you’re essentially forcing student-athletes to return and risk they’re lives without compensation.”
  • “Absolutely.  The scholarship was earned and shouldn’t be lost if someone prioritizes health over their coaches’ wants during the situation of a pandemic.”

In response to the resolution’s call to ensure athletes can engage in return to sports discussions without fear of retaliation or threats:

  • “Whistleblower protections – I truly think is the greatest thing missing in college athletes’ rights and well-being.”

A Resolution in Support of Student-Athlete Agency and Autonomy Co-Sponsors:

Elijah Wade, General Representative 3
Naomi Riley, President
Emily Luong, Internal Vice President
Justin Rodriguez, General Representative 2
Breeze Hernandez, Academic Affairs Commissioner
Promise Ogunleye, Cultural Affairs Commissioner
Sachi Cooper, Facilities Commissioner
Zuleika Bravo, Transfer Student Representative

WHEREAS, local and state reopening orders during the COVID-19 pandemic are accompanied by numerous health and safety standards, but most neglect to address key issues surrounding the protection of student-athletes during a return of college sports; and

WHEREAS, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not enforce health and safety standards, states that it has no duty to protect college athletes, and allows colleges to self-regulate and self-enforce their own adherence to health and safety guidelines1; and

WHEREAS, the 2013 Team Physician Consensus Statement published by six medical associations states in part that ethical challenges in college sports include that those seeking financial gain may interfere with the well-being of athletes2; and

WHEREAS, UCLA Athletics’s annual revenue exceeds $100 million dollars annually, including the $2.5 million that students contribute through student fees3; and

WHEREAS, a 2019 National Athletic Trainers Association survey found that 19% of trainers reported a coach playing a student-athlete who was deemed “medically ineligible for participation”, and approximately three out of five trainers report being pressured about medical decisions by nonmedical personnel, despite NCAA guidelines discouraging such practices4; and

1 http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/18/court-filing-ncaa-denies-legal-duty-protect-athlet/ https://deadspin.com/ncaa-lets-michigan-state-off-the-hook-in-nassar-case-1828719733
2 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2013/08000/Team_Physician_Consensus_Statement___2013_Update.24.aspx 3https://features.dailybruin.com/2020/ballpark-figures/&sa=D&ust=1590195484490000&usg=AFQjCNFpOGM02zcaAzSwC-n6 vb_bk0S7-A
4 https://www.nata.org/press-release/062619/only-half-collegiate-level-sports-programs-follow-medical-model-care-student http://www.chronicle.com/article/Trainers-Butt-Heads-With/141333/?cid=longform-related

http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/why-the-ncaa-wont-adopt-concussion-penalties----at-least-not-yet/

WHEREAS, the self-enforcement of health and safety guidelines by colleges has led to widespread mistreatment and abuse as well as serious injury and death among college athletes; and, if UCLA athletics and its opponents do not abide by COVID-19 health and safety standards, it may negatively impact UCLA student-athletes5; and

WHEREAS, college football players may face higher risks associated with COVID-19, as a disproportionate amount of college football players suffer from sickle-cell disease, heart disease, and hypertension,6which are all risk factors for COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)7; and

WHEREAS, university and governmental discussions and decisions regarding the return to college sports have not included student-athletes, informed student-athletes on health risks, or made clear to student-athletes whether or not their scholarships may be affected if they decide not to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic; and

THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls for student-athletes to have positions on all task forces or internal discussions related to return to practice and competition.

FURTHER LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls on UCLA to ensure that student-athletes are completely informed about COVID-19 health risks associated with their health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities so that they can make informed decisions.

5 https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/14682233/university-california-admits-negligence-2014-death-lineman-ted-ag https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/la-sp-ucla-football-lawsuit-jim-mora-20190530-story.html https://www.pennlive.com/pennstatefootball/2018/05/sandy_barbour_muqtar_cal_penn.html

https://www.pe.com/2019/09/14/the-pattern-of-alleged-abuse-that-forced-john-margaritis-out-as-ucr-coach/ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/17/sports/ohio-state-sexual-abuse.html http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/07/08/stanford-university-ncaa-facing-concussion-lawsuit-from-former-football-players/ http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2012/10/27/arizona-just-broke-the-ncaas-concussion-policy-will-it-matter/#32316185d 59b

http://deadspin.com/5949336/uscs-robert-woods-couldnt-keep-his-balance-after-a-helmet-to-helmet-hit-missed-one-play http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/did-brady-hoke-send-shane-morris-into-the-game-with-a-concussion/ https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/usc-football-team-doctor-admits-to-ignoring-fda-and-ncaa-painkiller-regulations https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/oregon-football-workouts-sent-players-to-hospital-who-will-stand-up-for-them/2017/01/ 17/1c0d7fae-dcf7-11e6-918c-99ede3c8cafa_story.html http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mike-rice-fired-by-rutgers-after-video-shows-coach-abusing-players/ https://www.1011now.com/content/news/Multiple-Nebraska-softball-players-filed-complaints--558838921.html https://www.nj.com/rutgers/2019/10/rutgers-softball-players-say-they-were-physically-emotionally-abused-by-wife-husband-coa ching-team-and-school-did-nothing.html https://www.click2houston.com/news/2019/06/13/uh-announces-internal-review-following-kprc2-report-on-punishment-workout -forced-on-soccer-team/

6 https://prospect.org/health/playing-games-with-college-athletes-lives/
7 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/groups-at-higher-risk.html

FURTHER LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls for student-athletes to have a choice in deciding whether they return to college sports activities during the COVID-19 pandemic without the fear of the reduction and/or cancellation of their scholarship, threats, or retaliation of any kind.

FURTHER LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls for further protections of the rights of student athletes past the pandemic and on into the future.

FURTHER LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls for public health officials to identify and enforce health and safety standards related to COVID-19, and the prevention of serious injury, abuse, and death as a condition for resuming college sports activity. This should be funded by the university and include mandatory reporting of suspected violations witnessed by athletic personnel, whistleblower protections for those reporting a suspected violation; and the ability to retrain, suspend, or ban athletic personnel who violate such standards.

FURTHER LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC reaffirms the need to prioritize the safety of student-athletes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by giving them the space and position to directly express concerns to those with jurisdiction in deciding any of these matters, including the UC Regents, the UCLA Chancellor, the UCLA Athletic Director, and any public and/or elected officials.

FINALLY LET IT BE RESOLVED, the USAC calls on California Governor Gavin Newsom, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council, the UC Regents, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, and UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond to immediately adopt the safeguards detailed in this resolution through their respective public health orders or university powers.

 

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