A text message circulating among Pac-12 football players is encouraging them to opt-out of practices and games until they can negotiate protections and benefits related to health and safety, economic rights and the fight against racial injustice.
ESPN first reported the possible movement among players at multiple Pac-12 schools and The Athletic published the text invitation. A public announcement, along with a list of demands, was published Sunday through The Players Tribune and social media platforms.
“Our [goal is to] obtain a written contract with the Pac-12 that legally ensures we are offered the following protections and benefits.”
- Ensure safe play during COVID-19
- Fight racial injustice
- Secure economic rights and fair compensation. “Distribute 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly among athletes in their respective sports,” the players wrote in the Tribune piece.
- Protect all sports
- Obtain long-term health insurance
“Due to COVID-19 and other serious concerns, we will opt-out of Pac-12 fall camp and game participation unless [our] demands are guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons,” the players wrote.
The Pac-12 on Friday announced its plan to delay the start of the season to Sept. 26 and play only 10 conference games in an attempt to manage potential disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The states of California and Arizona, home to half the Pac-12 teams, have experienced some of the worst surges in coronavirus cases over the last month.
The Pac-12 approved a plan that will allow teams in the conference to start 20 hours per week of team activities, including weight training, meetings and non-contact practices known as walk-throughs. Preseason practice in the Pac-12 is scheduled to start Aug. 17, but currently USC, UCLA and Cal are operating under local restrictions that would prevent their football teams from practicing.
“Neither the Conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics,” the Pac-12 said in a statement. “We support our student-athletes using their voices, and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics. As we have clearly stated with respect to our fall competition plans, we are, and always will be, directed by medical experts with health, safety and well being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff always the first priority. We have made it clear that any student who chooses not to return to competition for health and safety reasons will have their scholarship protected.”
Also on Saturday, The Washington Post reported on a meeting between player representatives from Southeastern Conference teams and the league’s commissioner, Greg Sankey, and medical advisers. The Post obtained an audio recording of the meeting.
“For so much unknown in the air right now, is it worth having a football season without certainty?” an unidentified player asked.
Sankey responded: “Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible, with the understanding there aren’t any guarantees in life.”