Grambing State football stadium
Photo: Grambling State University Athletics

A simple question posted on an online message board can every once in a while provide welcome introspection.

These forums are often associated with trolls and all the garbage that come along with web exchanges where nuance is buried under plies of hardline stances.

On this particular forum — the same space where this column is housed — a veteran commenter wanted to know whether historically black colleges had done the right thing in deciding to cancel or postpone fall sports until the spring to avoid all the potential ramifications of a coronavirus pandemic that brought along with it nothing but death, sickness, and exploding political division.

“Week four and five in some places in highschool football games and everything is going good so far. Did we overreact by cancelling college football this year?” – CEE DOG

On the surface, there might be some truth to this. Depending on where you live, COVID-19 hasn’t had all that much of an impact on communities that decided to hold sanctioned high school or college football games. As of today, there have been relatively few reports of significant community spread following games.

Digging a little deeper, though, COVID-19 has been a formidable adversary. Outbreaks have already affected Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and yes, even college football at the FBS level.

Through the first two weeks of this most unprecedented season, nearly a dozen Division I college football games have been canceled outright or moved to a later date on the schedule because of COVD-19 setbacks. Others have paused practices for the same reasons.

High schools haven’t been spared either. Several games across the country were canceled recently after players tested positive for the virus that resulted in mass quarantines.

There have been tragedies, too.

A South Carolina high school football coach died from coronavirus complications.

Another in Georgia was hospitalized after contracting both the flu and COVID-19. 

Then there was the sad tale of Jamain Stephens. The 20-year-old defensive lineman at the California University of Pennsylvania died of COVID-19.

The SWAC, MEAC, CIAA and SIAC (everyone but Florida Memorial) all chose the risk of holding athletic competitions in the midst of a global pandemic just wasn’t worth it despite whatever financial setbacks the decisions would cause.

Florida Memorial ends 62-year football hiatus with 62-0 loss to Keiser University

That decision, however, can be viewed critically when Big Ten players, coaches, and parents are demanding answers to why the Big 12, SEC, and ACC can play but their athletes can’t. When President Donald Trump is pushing for a return to normalcy through college football. When college football has been the centerpiece of the social and cultural ethos, it is difficult to walk away from the game that means so much.

When examining everything we know — and don’t know about COVID-19 — the brain trusts at these universities made the painful but right determination to put safety and health ahead of pageantry and thrills.

There are still questions about testing. There are still questions about whether universities can prevent athletes from contracting the virus. There are still questions about whether schools themselves can even protect the student body, professors, and vulnerable staff members.

A look at viral videos of bars and nightclubs filled with young people provides a grim reminder of all the complications.

Football seasons come and go. But lives and health aren’t guaranteed to have the same fate.


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