What I’m Hearing: Dan Wolken details his conversations with university administrators and their fears about putting on a college football season during a pandemic. It’s one of the many reasons for its potential postponement.
It’s nice to see all the newfound concern for college football players now that the season is on the brink.
Where were you in March? Or June? Better yet, where are you now?
We all want college football back. Like golf, basketball and soccer, watching college football would give us a blessed feeling of normalcy, a respite from all the pandemic has cost. But contrary to the fantasy peddled Monday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse, among others, this is not a no-risk proposition.
The idea that young people can’t get COVID-19 has been debunked, and there is growing concern now that the virus could cause long-term heart complications. In Germany, a study of recovered patients found that 78% had structural changes to their hearts and 60% showed signs of myocarditis.
Now, the average age of the patients in the German study was 49, more than twice as old as college athletes. But there is anecdotal evidence that shows young people, athletes included, are also at risk.
Eduardo Rodriguez, expected to be the Boston Red Sox’s Opening Day starter, is missing the season because of myocarditis that resulted from the 27-year-old’s “mild” case of COVID-19. Houston Cougars defensive lineman Sedrick Williams announced over the weekend that he was opting out of the season because he has “complications with my heart” after having the virus early last month. The mother of Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney said in a Facebook post that her son also might have heart issues.
For those not familiar with heart ailments, myocarditis is inflammation of the heart that reduces its ability to pump blood and can cause rapid or abnormal heart rhythms. It can, according to the Mayo Clinic, lead to heart failure, heart attacks or strokes.
Or, as in the case of Boston Celtics’ star Reggie Lewis, death.
“COVID-19 is serious,” Feeney, a freshman, said in a Twitter post Monday. “I never thought that I would have serious complications from this virus, but look at what happened.”
Covid-19 is serious. I never thought that I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened.🤦♂️ We need to listen to our medical experts. https://t.co/iP0XalEp2D
— Brady Feeney (@brady_feeney) August 10, 2020
All these folks who insist it’s safe to play college football, who say it’s important for the “well-being of (the) student-athletes,” as DeSantis said in an interview with Fox Sports, are you really willing to gamble on the life of a 19-year-old? When a 22-year-old with designs on the NFL fails his physical at the combine, will you have anything to say about the millions he’s lost besides, “Oops, my bad”?
“We respect the challenge that the virus has presented,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said in a statement. “However, we will not cower from it.”
As if all it takes to beat back COVID-19 is more of that good-old American grit and fearlessness.
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Harbaugh is right in one respect. The virus can be “controlled and handled” with the right protocols. There are fans in attendance at rugby matches in New Zealand, which has gone more than 100 days without a COVID-19 case. Even in Italy and Spain, which were ravaged by the disease, the soccer seasons were able to resume.
But we, as a country, have been neither willing nor able to do the hard work necessary to allow us to return to normalcy. Our testing is nowhere near adequate enough. The delays in getting results make contact tracing a joke. When medical experts warned that we needed to stay locked down for a few more weeks to bend the curve, we howled, citing our God-given right to go to the bars, get haircuts and not be subjected to the tyranny of face masks.
And politicians such as DeSantis continue to feed that myopic ignorance.
“It was really important, as we got into May and June, to keep society functioning. The shutdowns are very damaging, so we did not do that,” DeSantis said. “We think having a healthy society is one of the best ways to fight the pandemic.”
Says the governor whose state set records for COVID-19 deaths for four consecutive days from July 28-31. And last week saw a record number of hospitalizations.
Led by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, dozens of players have joined the “WeWantToPlay” campaign, hoping to convince Power-5 leaders to find some way to salvage the season. Their feelings are understandable, and they make good points about the benefits of being in a structured environment.
But college football is not a structured environment. Schools had to shut down offseason workouts when campuses were empty, and now players will be surrounded by other students, as well as teachers and staff. The environment is uncontrollable.
“Life is about tradeoffs,” Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska who was president of Midland University from 2010 to 2014, wrote in a letter to the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors that was obtained by Sports Illustrated.
“There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe – that’s absolutely true; it’s always true.”
Yes, but the risks now are greater, the unknowns weightier.
For college football to happen this season, we needed our politicians, university leaders and athletic officials to deal with COVID-19 in responsible fashion these last six months. Instead, they dithered and denied.
COVID-19 was never going to just “go away.” It required a plan and commitment to it. And too many people couldn’t be bothered, until it was too late.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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