“When they stormed Normandy, they knew that there were going to be casualties, there was gonna be risk.” - Lou Holtz
Believe it or not, former American football coach Lou Holtz’s quote discusses the necessity of a football season at the coronavirus pandemic’s backdrop. Yes, Holtz compared the coronavirus pandemic currently plaguing our country to soldiers risking their lives during D-Day twice. Not only is this ignorant, but this absurd comparison between college football and World War II is entirely dismissive to the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers on that fateful day. I love sports just as much as anyone else. I love the passion and community I feel with my fellow Aggies during all sporting events, especially football games. There is nothing better than singing the Aggie War Hymn or doing my favorite yell, "Farmer's Fight." However, the fact that football is seen as essential at this moment only goes to show how profit is the school’s number one priority.
All-Star Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle articulated our current moment profoundly when he said, "sports are like the reward of a functioning society." Unfortunately, America has failed in that regard. We currently have over 20 percent of the world's total cases and can not even agree on the simplest of steps to take going forward. Having a football season amid a pandemic sets a precedent of normalcy that we should not have right now. We cannot keep ignoring the elephant in the room that's killing over 200,000 nationwide and 60 people right here in Brazos County. College athletes are extraordinarily fit individuals, and their risk is relatively low due to their exceptional health. However, the spread of infections the games will cause because of people going is not negligible.
I empathize with the student-athletes during all of this. Losing a season can hurt their prospects and their chances of a professional career. It feels like they are not invited to the decision-making table when these conversations are happening. This frustration could not be more evident than the petition started by Justin Fields, quarterback for Ohio State University, and several prominent athletes in the #LetUsPlay petition. Football itself is inherently a risky sport. There is growing evidence for brain injury and increased dementia rates for football players, so COVID-19 appears to be just another risk. However, the coronavirus is still a very new disease. We don't know the long term effects it has on individuals. Athletes being in extraordinary shape doesn't make them invincible. Research is showing some college athletes who recovered from COVID-19 show signs of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. This condition is potentially deadly if the individual's heart is under immense stress. The reasoning behind restarting any football season should have science at the forefront and not cherry-picked medical facts used to support an agenda. The possibility of college athletes dying should not be a necessary means to an end for colleges to generate money for the institution. It is not enough that these students see no revenue from their labor, but putting them at a life-threatening risk for profit is just a new low for the NCAA.
I applaud Texas A&M on the COVID-19 guidelines set out for the school year. The university's plans to provide free testing, contact tracing and random group testing are critical to understanding and battling the virus. However, the hypocrisy of the university's guidelines versus what happens at football games is hugely embarrassing. The university's official sports page lists the various procedures and policies the CDC will implement per rules set out. A significant highlight of the rules states that "failure to wear a mask after a second reminder will result in ejection from the venue." Again, it appears A&M has got a handle on curbing the spread of the virus, but watching the game on TV tells an entirely different story. It was as if the coronavirus took a day off to celebrate the return of A&M football. To be clear, I am not going to scapegoat the students or athletes. The power dynamic between the university and its students is immeasurable. Students will only get away with what the university allows. The least A&M could do is shut down the possibility of fans being at the stadium. The university should have never created the option of going to a game in the first place since it produces a giant petri dish for the disease to spread.
We cannot keep losing focus on the bigger picture here. Even though A&M Chancellor John Sharp says, "the spirit of the 12th Man is immune to the coronavirus," the reality is that none of us are. I know I am asking a lot by suggesting A&M should do what is morally right rather than only think of its financial interests. However, maybe there is still a chance this school cares about its students. History will remember the complicit, and what this school decides right now will never be forgotten.
Ozioma Mgbahurike is an electrical engineering sophomore and opinion writer for The Battalion.