A Spike in Cases or a Spike in the Heel?

Forget the spike in COVID-19 cases. With the announcement that the Ivy League will have no athletic season this coming fall, the worst fears of NCAA athletes are beginning to spike. We remember what they did last spring after the Ivies cancelled their spring sports season. Even now, some politicians are calling for the cancellation of NCAA fall sports.

As a collegiate athlete I feel compelled to explain why a cancellation of fall sports would be outrageous. The American public should get angry at this attempted manipulation.

I am a cross country and track athlete. Here is what an ordinary day looks like for student-athletes like me: We are up and at the gym for lifting before 6 a.m. After that, we shower and go immediately to class. From class, we head to practice to run. We run every single day with the exception of our in-between season breaks for resting. In most cases we dedicate ourselves to this kind of discipline and rigor, not because of a scholarship, but because it is our passion. The competition and rigor of life as part of a team helps define who we are. It fills us with purpose and shapes our approach to everything we do. Most athletes, no matter the sport, pour their hearts and souls into their sports.

I used to think Americans understood that sports are a channel for competition and a way to train young people to find productive ways to work out their frustrations, stay healthy, learn cooperation, and just generally grow and develop. But now it seems we are so panicked over this coronavirus that we prefer to urge people, even the healthiest and strongest among us, to stay locked inside and wearing a mask.

This makes no sense, especially when one considers how important exercise is as a way to protect one’s health—both mental and physical. There have already been studies showing that those who get a good amount of vitamin D (especially out in the sun) and exercise face fewer risks from the disease than those who do not. So, for the life of me, I can not understand why we would insist on canceling sports.

Perhaps this has nothing to do with the coronavirus at all and more with control?

One of the Biggest Rip-Offs in NCAA History

In the weeks leading up to the Ivy League’s announcement, more news sources began to report growing numbers of coronavirus cases in young adults. This “spike” should have been taken in stride as something to be expected as we opened up and young people got back to their routines. Naturally, more of us are going to test positive now. But as we all know by now, testing positive and being sick, especially sick enough to be hospitalized, are different things. Since fewer people are dying now as the “spike” in cases is hitting, is it crazy to conclude that the disease is just not as dangerous to young people as we feared? And don’t we have a right to assess that risk for ourselves?

For some in politics and the media, the idea that young people are itching to get back to living their lives while we are still young seems to offend them. Those people are unhappy, it seems, so they want all of us to be unhappy, too. This is the only reason I can think of as to why such a fuss has been made about more young people testing positive.

Naturally, we were told to shove those fears aside during the recent month-long protest binge, but the Ivy League says you can not safely play your sport. Sorry—I call bullshit.

On top of that, at least at my university, not a single athlete has been asked how we feel about coming back to our sports. I get the feeling that most would say that we want to play, and this above all things frightens those responsible for making decisions. If they don’t ask, we can’t tell.

If the NCAA follows the path that the Ivy League is taking, it will be one of the biggest rip-offs for student-athletes in NCAA history. They will lose some students forever. There is going to be a real crisis of depression, many will lose scholarships, some will drop out with no chance of coming back, there will be lost years of eligibility and milestones, and sadly I even fear that some will take their own lives. We can’t get this time back. There is no pause button.

Unintended Consequences, Lasting Damage

You may think this sounds too intense. Many older adults would argue that there are harder things in life and this is just whining. Fine. There are harder things. But this is unnecessary.

Think back to when you were young, think back to some opportunities you may have had. You may even have been a collegiate athlete yourself. If not, think of something in this world that you couldn’t imagine taking on life without doing. Think of people you can’t imagine not surrounding yourself with and working together with. For athletes, that is our sports and our teams. For us right now they are as important to us as work and family are to you.

Reflect on that image of me getting up at the crack of dawn to put in the work, out of love for my sport. Runners like me push on whatever the weather and however we feel. If we fall, we get up and keep going. We bleed, we wipe it off, and keep pushing. Our legs feel weak, but we push on because we know that victory can be reached.

To you, NCAA, let me be clear. These same values that we athletes carry in our soul we will carry to you. If administrators calling these terrible shots think they can suppress us, they should be advised that we will push back. Do not think that you can manipulate our opinions. Keep fall sports. This decision you are making from your cushy office chair concerns the lives of thousands of students. You do not understand the lifetime of disappointment and damage you may be inflicting.

Someday I hope that the people making these decisions will understand and pay the consequences for the burdens they have placed on students and student-athletes. God willing my children will never have to live through the same pain.

About Libby Justine

Libby Justine is a college student in the Midwest.

Photo: VM/Getty Images

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