Christine Brennan, USA TODAY
Published 7:58 a.m. ET Aug. 20, 2020 | Updated 9:41 a.m. ET Aug. 20, 2020
At first blush, the idea sounds undeniably all-American: Parents traveling hundreds of miles to fight for their kids who play sports. This protest, which centers on the diametrically opposed interests of playing college football and fighting COVID-19, is planned for Friday at Big Ten headquarters in the Chicago suburbs.
I happened to mention this development Wednesday when speaking to a doctor I know.
“They’re upset schools are making their kids play football during a global pandemic?” she asked.
“No, they’re upset that their kids can’t play football during a global pandemic.”
We’ve been watching parents obsess over their children’s sports for years, so we really shouldn’t be surprised that the day has finally come that moms and dads are taking to the streets to complain about the unthinkable. They are actually angry that their sons are not being allowed to play a sport in which social distancing is impossible during the nation’s deadliest pandemic in 100 years. Given a choice between watching their kid play a game, albeit one in which some will make a lot of money someday, and making sure he is as safe and healthy as he can be, they are not choosing the latter.
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Six weeks after the Ivy League decided not to play fall sports, and one and a half weeks after the Big Ten and Pac-12 made the same call, Ohio State football dad Randy Wade plans to lead a group of what he hopes will be dozens of other Big Ten football parents in protesting the conference’s decision to postpone football to the winter or spring, presuming it’s safe to play then.
Wade, whose son Shaun is a highly regarded cornerback for the Buckeyes, said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon that he had heard from “70-100 people” in the past few days from six of the conference’s 14 schools: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa and Nebraska. How many will show up, he has no idea. He’s flying in from Jacksonville, Florida.
Taking advantage of confusion festering within some of the Big Ten’s more leadership-challenged athletic departments, combined with a dearth of information coming out of the office of the relatively new conference commissioner, Kevin Warren, until he strongly reaffirmed the Big Ten’s postponement Wednesday evening, Wade is jumping into the vacuum to try to give his son back his normal college football season.
On a visceral level, that’s understandable. Who isn’t heartbroken for the children and young adults in our lives who have lost sports seasons and school musicals and graduations and so much more due to coronavirus?
But then at least some of us say to ourselves: we are the adults here, and more than 170,000 Americans have died of this virus for which we still have no vaccine or treatments or national rules about wearing masks and social distancing. So, we must use our brains and listen to the doctors and the scientists and deal with the sad fact that college football has become part of the collateral damage of the virus in many places around the country.
Some, unfortunately, don’t have it in them to do that.
I asked Wade if instead of protesting at the Big Ten offices, he would consider protesting the do-nothing policies of President Donald Trump or other political leaders such as those in Florida who failed to act earlier to perhaps save football this fall.
He thought for a moment before answering. “Yes, I would definitely protest Donald Trump, I would,” he said. “And maybe my state and local government politicians too, but Donald Trump does affect them, so that’s kind of crazy too. To make change, yes, I would protest them.”
My guess is that Wade and other disgruntled Big Ten parents would quiet down immediately if the ACC, SEC and Big 12 did what they should do and postponed their fall sports as well. It’s all about FOMO: fear of missing out. What parent wants their kid to sit out when other peoples’ kids are still playing — until those schools finally, inevitably, belatedly, pull the plug as well?
Critics on social media have pummeled the Big Ten for its inability to control the renegades in its midst, but no one knows chaos like the ACC right now, with UNC and Notre Dame meekly tiptoeing around epic campus outbreaks while lacking the institutional fortitude to follow their heads, not their hearts, and simply stop fall sports for good this year.
Wade said he “probably wouldn’t” be protesting if the other conferences postponed. Whether it’s youth soccer or club basketball or the upper reaches of college athletics, competition among sports parents who take their kids’ sports way too seriously reigns supreme, even in these dire times. This awful pandemic is revealing many things. Some of them we already knew.