With the 2020 college football season currently slated to start on time, athletes have begun returning to campus for offseason voluntary workouts. For UCLA football players, however, there is concern about being properly protected against future COVID-19 infections.
According to a document obtained by the Los Angeles Times, 30 players within the program asserted they do not trust UCLA or coach Chip Kelly to act in their best interest regarding their health -- an area where the university has "perpetually failed." The document comes after players met over the course of several hours via videoconference on Thursday night. Furthermore, the group of athletes, which reportedly includes quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, have demanded that the following items be implemented:
- A third-party health official on hand for all football activities to ensure all COVID-19 prevention protocols are being followed
- Anonymous whistleblower protections for players and staff to report violations
- Scholarship protection for those making decisions about whether to come back to campus
Thompson-Robinson further explained his thought process on Twitter, noting that this is not a "trust issue" with Kelly.
#1 No one said they didn’t trust coach Kelly #2 Majority of players talked about these demands but only a handful were willing to have there names publicly written— DTR (@DoriansTweets) June 19, 2020
Don’t turn this into a feeding frenzy on Coach, this is about the safety of the program as a whole. https://t.co/5dVnLgulKL
ESPN reported Friday that the players, Kelly and incoming athletic director Martin Jarmond will participate in a Zoom call on Friday. The school is expected to honor scholarships of athletes who choose not to play, and is setting up an anonymous hotline for players to report concerns to administrators.
If the demands are not met, the players say they will abstain from participating in football-related promotional activities -- a bargaining move similar to what Texas athletes have said they would do if demands regarding racial injustices aren't met. The document comes as COVID-19 cases start to spike again in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida. Thirteen players at Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus and Houston suspended its voluntary workouts after six players tested positive.
"These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected," the document reads. "If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.
"The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the front-lines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision."
Matt Elliott, UCLA's senior associate athletic director for internal operations, told the Times the athletic department has assigned a task force that is preparing best practices for returning to campus. That begins Monday, June 22, when UCLA will phase in voluntary workouts. The NCAA has already approved a six-week preseason calendar beginning on July 13 for training camp. However, UCLA's first game is in Week 0 (Aug. 29 vs. New Mexico State), meaning it would begin mandatory workouts July 6. UCLA has not yet received clearance from Los Angeles county to begin the next phase of those workouts.
As for the players' demands, Elliott said "We will evaluate subsequent terms to see where we are in the pandemic and what the health recommendations are for winter and spring," and that players are "incredibly fortunate to have a campus with a world-class medical center."