By HALEY YAMADA, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Hunter Reynolds, a senior at the University of Michigan who plays defensive back for the storied college football team, fought for his chance to play in the fall season.
“Just because we want to play safely doesn’t mean we don’t want to play at all,” Reynolds told the ABC News podcast “Start Here.”
But on Tuesday, the country’s largest college football conference Big Ten announced that it would officially postpone its 2020 to 2021 fall sports season, including all regular-season contests, championships and tournaments, due to safety concerns related to COVID-19.
“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Morton Schapiro, chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and president at Northwestern University.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Reynolds was one of the college football players who joined a last-ditch Zoom call on Sunday night to organize player representatives from across the country to try to save their college football season.
Reynolds said that he’d heard other conferences would “follow suit” if the Big Ten canceled. Shortly after Big Ten announced its postponement of sports activities, the Pac-12 conference announced it would also postpone sports activities until at least the beginning of 2021.
“[The Zoom call] was just, kind of, let’s make it 100% known to these schools that, as athletes, we want to be out there this fall, suited up,” said Reynolds, in an interview conducted before the Big Ten’s announcement.
Reynolds is part of the #WeWantToPlay movement, one of several other player unity movements calling for the football season to go forward. Although he said there was a popular perception that the groups were at odds, they actually had the same goal: to get on the field, without abandoning responsibilities to player health.
“At the end of the day, most student athletes in those groups are student athletes who want to play football this fall. Like we know, that’s our goal. That’s what we’re fighting for,” said Reynolds. “We feel that there are ways for schools to handle this in a manner that makes it as safe as possible for the players.”
Those with the #WeWantToPlay movement were among a group of players that called out the NCAA for not having standard COVID-19 safety protocols. Reynolds said the NCAA has the power to implement protocols, rather than leaving it up to the individual conferences.
“We felt like the NCAA regulates so much in our day-to-day lives as athletes, that for them to kind of throw their hands back and say, ‘It is a conference issue,’ was something we kind of found slightly hypocritical,” said Reynolds, who claimed that some schools were not requiring players to get tested while others were even discouraging it.
The NCAA, which has published return-to-sports guidelines, announced earlier this month that players who opted out of the 2020 season would be able to retain their full scholarships.
Reynolds explained that college football eligibility is finite and that fifth-year players depend on the season for the future of their careers in the sport. With regard to returning to school, Reynolds said that some teammates who have worked their entire lives to play the sport are in “rough situations” at home and suggested the schools provide safety.
“I always know where my next meal is going to come from. Never have to worry about the lights being turned on or helping out my parents with bills. But there are a lot of people that are not in that situation… They’ve worked so hard for their entire life,” said Reynolds.
“It’s just kind of this situation where there’s a lot of double standards going on that we feel is an injustice in and of itself. And [playing this season is] just one aspect of the things we’re trying to fight,” he added, referring to an NCAA rule that college athletes don’t own and can’t profit off their own name, image and likeness.
When Reynolds spoke to ABC News, there was no word yet on an official announcement, but various reports had speculated that the University of Michigan had already voted to cancel its 2020 football season.
“One of my old football coaches, used to say, ‘Life is 10% what happens, and 90% how you respond to it,’” Reynolds said. “So, whatever may happen, it’s just about responding to it.”
Several Division I colleges and athletic conferences have canceled fall sports even before the Big Ten decided to postpone their fall season.
The Big Ten’s most recent announcement to postpone its season goes against President Donald Trump largely advocating for college football in the fall, falsely claiming that COVID-19 “just attacks old people” and that young, healthy college athletes are “not going to have a problem,” ABC News reported on Tuesday.
Despite the show of support, Reynolds fired back at the president on Twitter, writing “if you actually took this virus seriously months ago, we wouldn’t even be in this situation.”
As data shows more younger people getting infected by COVID-19, health experts are warning against the myth that young people can’t get seriously ill from the virus, which has killed more than 574,000 people around the world, reported ABC News.
“Everyone who is young in that age group has the same idea of ‘I’m young, I’m not gonna get it, [and] if I do get it, it’s not gonna be that bad,’” said Dr. Michael Seemuller, a doctor at AnMed Health in South Carolina and the chair of Quality and Safety for its physician network. “And then they get it and they end up in the hospital.”
As for Reynolds, before the Big Ten announcement, he said he was trying to take things day-by-day.
“If I had practice on [the schedule] tomorrow, then, you know, I’ll be out there for practice,” he said.
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