Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, tweeted this on Monday about the very real potential shutdown of college football because of the coronavirus:
“People are at just as much, if not more [at] risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract Covid-19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/ their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season also incentivize’s players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting Covid because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions. Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game that all of us love. Not divide and argue. There is a way forward”.
Lawrence is not wrong – and I don’t disagree with him. There is a way, as Lawrence says, for colleges to positively advance their mission forward for athletes that, for the moment, does not include playing sports.
There are a vast number of college athletes that, to paraphrase Lawrence, “will be sent home to situations that are not good for them.” For a good number of students, higher learning offers a functional community and, more importantly, a structure that they can’t get when they are not on campus accomplishing something that will constructively and positively move them forward towards better lives. In the case of on-campus athletes – especially the ones in sports that create great revenue for colleges – colleges have gone to great lengths to create this façade of athletes as students.
The term “student-athlete” is a made-up term and concept coined in 1964 by Walter Byers, the first-ever executive director of the NCAA, to counter attempts to require universities to pay wages, salaries, or workers’ compensation. In the almost 60 years since, college athletics have succeeded in this aim, making staggering amounts of money in the process. This has been the ethic behind depriving millions of college athletes since any portion of that obscene monetary haul while at the same time making the flawed claim that “you can’t put a price on the college education they are getting”.
Well, now is the perfect time for the NCAA and big time colleges and universities to put their money where their mouth is. Colleges are in a unique position to actually begin treating and dealing with these athletes as the first half of the term.
If sports is not really an option for these athletes for the time being, then honor their scholarships. If it truly is safer on campus for athletes, like Lawrence claims, then let them stay on campus and reap the rewards of being in a “bubble” that best protects them during this uncertain and scary time during the pandemic, with access to health protocols and medical care they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. Let them work out and stay in the shape and condition required for their sport (health and safety protocols allowing) when it is possible to carry on.
Until then, the operative two words for these colleges should be “student” and “scholarship”. For the time being and despite the ethic the NCAA and big time colleges have pushed for over half a century, these athletes can’t really be “athletes” right now. So emphasize that they are there on a “scholarship” – which the last time I checked meant school (you know, college’s PRIMARY mission). Emphasize their education and encourage them to take as many classes as they can (virtually or otherwise according to health and safety protocols) in the time they clearly now have, and – heaven help – work towards a degree.
These colleges and universities with big time multi-million dollar athletics claim they care about their athletes, and that you can’t put a price on a college education. Fine. Then right now make more of a priority out of helping your “student-athletes” learn something else substantive other that football, basketball, etc…
…Of course, you as well as I know that the member schools of the Pac-12, Big-12, Big-10, SEC, and ACC will never do this. It makes way too much sense!