College Athletes Threaten To Skip Season Over COVID-19, Racial Justice Demands

Players from PAC-12 schools said they will sit out the upcoming football season unless the conference meets their health and racial justice demands.

Athletes from several Pacific-12 schools threatened to sit out the upcoming college football season unless conference officials meet their demands regarding coronavirus safety measures, racial justice and fair treatment of student athletes.

The athletes posted a statement Sunday on The Players’ Tribune listing several reasons for their potential walkout, casting the NCAA and conference administrators as parties to a system of racial exploitation.

“Because NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes, #WeAreUnited,” the athletes’ statement said.

ESPN reported Saturday that the potential boycott could involve “potentially hundreds” of athletes.

Logos of schools that were scheduled to participate in the canceled PAC-12 men's basketball tournament adorn the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 2.
Logos of schools that were scheduled to participate in the canceled PAC-12 men's basketball tournament adorn the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 2.
Ethan Miller via Getty Images

More than half of all athletes playing Division I football are Black, a 2013 study found. The coronavirus disproportionately affects Black people and communities.

The PAC-12 players’ statement said that the athletes are speaking out because they’re “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.”

Over the last month, several college football programs have encouraged players to return for voluntary workouts, even with the upcoming season in doubt as the virus continues to spread.

Several teams have reported outbreaks, and a number of them have refused to reveal how many players have been infected. Nevertheless, PAC-12 officials announced plans Friday for a 10-game, conference-only season to begin Sept. 26.

Half of the conference’s schools ― Arizona State, Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA and USC ― are in states witnessing surging coronavirus cases.

Players called on the PAC-12 to void COVID-19 agreements they signed waiving liability for the conference and school officials, implement better coronavirus safety measures, allow athletes to skip the upcoming season without losing eligibility and implement player-approved health guidelines to be enforced by a player-approved third party.

Their demands also called for racial justice and an end to player exploitation after the pandemic ends. That would mark a revolutionary change in the way the NCAA functions. Players demand compensation for and fair use of their likenesses, pay cuts for high-earning NCAA officials to rescue suspended programs, health coverage for athletes and an extension of their academic scholarships “to foster undergraduate and graduate degree completion.”

Players said they are prepared to skip fall workouts and the upcoming season if the NCAA doesn’t agree to the demands.

“#WeAreUnited in our commitment to secure fair treatment for college athletes,” they said. “Due to COVID-19 and other serious concerns, we will opt-out of PAC-12 fall camp and game participation unless the following demands are guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons.”

The PAC-12 said in a statement to HuffPost that it is being “directed by medical experts” and that “any student athlete who chooses not to return to competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected.”