Athletes Are Speaking Out As NCAA Considers College Football Season This Fall
STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
College sports, like all sports, face an unsure future during the pandemic. And as the NCAA gets ready for the college football season, athletes from the biggest conferences are speaking out. In the Pac-12, hundreds of football players announced that they will boycott the season because of player safety, among other reasons. And in the Southeastern Conference, players voiced their concerns about playing during a pandemic to officials. And audio of that conversation was leaked to The Washington Post. Sports writer Robert Klemko was on that story for The Post, and he joins me now via Skype.
ROBERT KLEMKO: Thanks for having me.
VANEK SMITH: So first of all, what was on the audio? What did you hear?
KLEMKO: So the players' concerns mostly focused on how the medical officials plan to keep them safe. And one of the players, MoMo Sanogo, an Ole Miss defensive player, said you know, we can understand trying to isolate when it's just the football team on campus. But how do we isolate ourselves and stay healthy when there are students returning to campus? And the medical official's advice to MoMo was to sit in the back of the class, don't engage with anybody, wear a mask and, when he could, encourage people on campus to also wear a mask.
So not only is - are these players, you know, being asked by, you know, the most powerful conference in the country to go out there and, you know, make money for the universities and be the biggest revenue driver for the athletic department and the school, but they're also supposed to teach their classmates to take COVID-19 seriously.
VANEK SMITH: So what are we hearing from players with a Pac-12 players' demands? What are their concerns?
KLEMKO: Many players in that conference have now threatened to opt out if a long list of demands aren't met. Some of them centered around social justice. Some of them centered around health and safety, and some of them focusing on player compensation, which recently has become a big topic in the NCAA...
VANEK SMITH: Right.
KLEMKO: ...With several landmark court cases.
VANEK SMITH: I mean, this does seem to be kind of, like, a power move by the NCAA football players. Is that fair to say?
KLEMKO: I think so. You know, and I think a lot of them are just now beginning to realize their power. And a lot of that is due to social media. You know, while guys were sitting around and isolated during the pandemic, I think that conversation started between players at different schools. And it's, you know, grown into this movement, specifically in the Pac-12, that the entire country, the entire sports world has its eye on.
VANEK SMITH: Yeah. How have players in the other major conferences responded?
KLEMKO: I think the Pac-12 response has a lot to do with the demographics of that part of the country, where the majority of Pac-12 players are coming from more liberal areas across California. Certainly, there's a number of players in every conference that feel the same as the Pac-12 players and would like to do the same thing. But I think there's just a lot more opposition to that within their own roster, on their coaching staffs. So we've heard from Pac-12 players that players in other conferences have reached out, but I don't think anybody anticipates that another conference's players are going to make a similar move here anytime soon.
VANEK SMITH: So the NCAA is the governing body here, but it does not seem to have an overarching plan at the moment for any of its sports. Do you see a fallout from this for the NCAA? Do you think we'll see changes?
KLEMKO: You know, I think it's possible you do. It's not as if we're talking about an organization that often takes a back seat. And yet, on this issue, they have. And they've let every conference govern for themselves what their pandemic response is going to be. And I think in the case of the Pac-12, especially where the Pac-12 is faced with either granting players permissions that would violate NCAA rules or not having a season, then the Pac-12 may opt to just have a season and deal with the consequences from the NCAA later.
VANEK SMITH: Robert Klemko is sports writer with The Washington Post.
Robert, thank you.
KLEMKO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.