The Football Pandemic: Is Safety or Politics Driving the Return to Sports?

In the sporting world, the biggest question has been the return of football during the coronavirus pandemic. At the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, regional and political lines seem to have been drawn on whether or not football should return. But what is the motivation to not bring football back?

The battle lines have been drawn, and the students are in the middle of a lifelong battle of political strife. Last week, the AJC had five longtime sports writers take a stance on whether or not sports, mainly football, should return in the fall. Of the five, four said they weren’t optimistic football would start for the Aug. 21 opening kickoff.

One stance was that testing needed to be ample enough to allow players at all 426 schools to be tested. The next stance was that everything was set to change in the sports world, and 10,000 people sharing close quarters, public restrooms, and concession stands wasn’t realistic. The third stance was that there wasn’t optimism for a return to fall sports. This was due to differing opinions by regions and the safety of integrating those regions. The fourth stance offered the solution of flipping the schedule, allowing non-contact sports to happen in the fall and more contact sports, such as football, to start in the winter or spring. The fifth stance paints a murky picture of the idea of football starting in August and that even following CDC guidelines could mean an October start date, if we’re lucky.

One thing missing from a lot of these pieces? Opinions from medical experts.

Around the rest of the country, NFL owners have met with medical experts and announced that they intend to have a football season with fans in the stands in 2020.

With the NCAA, it’s more complicated. California continues to have a full shut down and believes that schools will remain online through the fall semester. Ohio State, Iowa, and schools in the SEC have all expressed intentions to play games, even if it means allowing only a fifth of the crowd, as Ohio State said early in the week.

The AJC’s stance is pushing back against the rest of the state in terms of restarting football. GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines said that they have been speaking with medical experts and hope to have a safe plan in place to allow teams to return to facilities in June under restrictions. They plan to meet on May 21 with a proposal to return sporting activities.

In addition to the GHSA, Arkansas has, although not official, a rumored plan in place to allow high school teams to return on June 1. Alabama and Louisiana both have said that they plan to open facilities on June 8. And while the FHSAA hasn’t announced anything for fall sports, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has said that “all professional sports are welcome” in the Sunshine State.

While California continues to stay closed, Georgia has reopened after three weeks of a statewide stay-at-home order, and the cases in the state have been on the decline for the last 12 days. While safety remains imperative to any return to football, experts should speak on whether it is safe or unsafe to play.

If you’ve noticed a theme here, it seems political allegiances have played just as big a role on the decision to return to sports as have evidence and statistics. States like California, which is one of the biggest blue states in the country, have taken the strongest stand against the return of sports. States that lean more red, like Alabama and Louisiana, are leaned heavily in the other direction. Have sports now become a political agenda?

Even in just Georgia, Atlanta is a more liberal city that is taking a more ironically conservative approach to the return of football. While the rural areas of Georgia are ready to return to a semblance of normalcy, counties surrounding Atlanta currently make up about 44% of the state’s cases. Could there be a scenario in which schools outside of Atlanta return with sports and schools in Atlanta do not? The GHSA is the governing body, but by no means has control over the school districts and their counties. If certain schools feel unsafe returning, or find it financially unfeasible – like Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville determined last week when they cancelled fall sports – then that may just be the decision that needs to be made.

Hines has said that players, coaches, and athletic directors are roaring to get back on the field. And if they’re willing to do it safely, following CDC guidelines while case numbers continue to decline, shouldn’t that be enough to get football going in the fall?

Life must return to some sort of normalcy. Cases in Georgia continue to decline, and if players, coaches, and – most importantly – fans are willing to make concessions to allow it, then football should come back. Every day you wake up and get in your car, you’re assuming risk for your health and safety; COVID-19 doesn’t change that.

We as citizens must be able to assume our own risk. If you’re an older parent or coach and it may be a health risk for you to be out at the stadium on Friday nights, then you may decide that being at the game is not safe for you. But if you’re at a lower risk, then you should be allowed to play and attend football games if that is your belief. Each person is individualized and should use the best medical opinions to make that decision for themselves.

If it means masks are required at games to limit spreading that risk to others, or sanitizing before entering the stadium, I am all for it. Safety comes first, but football is an institution. There are safe solutions to allow students to play their senior seasons, get their last chance at a state championship, and have the best high school experience they can.

What’s your vote: to play or not to play?

 

 

 

Written by: Kyle Grondin