“Hundreds” of players from across the Pac-12 say they will not take the field unless college football cleans up its safety protocols and gives them health insurance.

Live sports have come back in the last couple weeks, and we’ve gotten a look at which coronavirus safety protocols work, and which definitely don’t work. NBA players have been contained in their Orlando, Florida “bubble” for more than three weeks, and knock on wood, have not suffered any outbreaks or notable positive tests (though they did have one embarrassing visit to a strip club scandal). Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has not utilized a bubble, has players flying all over the country for games, and now has at least 30 positive COVID-19 cases, is postponing games like mad, and might cancel the entire damned season any day now. It seems like other sports could draw conclusions from this?

The infection risks are probably even higher in college football, which is asking players to travel for away games, plus it is college so people will have sex and do drugs to create additional virus threat vectors. Some college football players seem aware of the dangers they’re facing, and of course, they don’t get paid while their coaches and administrators rake in millions. That’s why KTVU is reporting an absolutely unprecedented move, where players in the Pac-12 athletic conference are threatening to refuse to play in college football this year, and multiple players from Cal and Stanford are involved with organizing what would essentially be a player’s strike.

“NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically, and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes,” a group of Pac-12 players said in an open letter posted online Sunday. “We are being asked to play college sports in a pandemic in a system without enforced health and safety standards, and without transparency about COVID cases on our teams, the risks to ourselves, our families, and our communities.”

The kids made this announcement on a website called the Players Tribune, which is sort of like Medium, except mostly only athletes and sports-adjacent celebrities post on it. Their post also calls for prohibition of COVID-19 liability waivers, pay cuts for coaches and administrators (nice!), investment in Black student initiatives, and for full medical insurance for six years after their college playing careers.  

The open letter itself is not signed, though some players have come forward and tweeted that they were part of the effort. An ESPN report this morning claims that “400 players” were on a conference call on the matter over the weekend. The KTVU article does not name which Cal and Stanford players signed the letter, but a Los Angeles Times report informs us that the letter was signed by Stanford defensive back Treyjohn Butler, and Cal offensive linemen Jake Curhan and Valentino Daltoso, and defensive back Joshua Drayden.

As seen above, some players say they’ve already been kicked off their teams for their involvement in the effort.

Pac-12 conference officials have basically blown the letter off, saying an open letter on the internet is not a negotiation. “Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics," the conference said in a statement to ESPN. "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.”

And it didn’t get much attention on Friday, but the conference released its revised and abbreviated football game schedule, according to the Chronicle. There are some thoughtful gestures and neat novelties in the mix; it’s conference games only, the season wouldn’t start until September 26, Cal and Stanford would play the Big Game on the extremely early date of October 24, the regular season wraps up December 5, with a simple conference championship game on December 18 or 19, and no mention of whether a qualifying team could accept an invite to the College Football Playoffs.

But the notion of college football still happening in December, during the feared flu-season winter outbreak of COVID-19, seems aspirational at best, and completely out to lunch from a realistic perspective. College football is embracing President Trump’s wishful-thinking strategy with coronavirus. These players will hopefully convince their well-paid administrators to employ intelligent thinking, even if they don’t get their full wishlist of transformational demands.

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Image: John Martinez Pavliga via Wikimedia Commons