Canceling college football would protect players and save us all from SEC coaches’ grave stupidity

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Jeremy Pruitt looks like a grandma and is not at all protected from coronavirus transmission.

Jeremy Pruitt looks like a grandma and is not at all protected from coronavirus transmission.
Photo: (Getty Images)

College football is officially a public health disaster. It’s the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally of sports, only it’s every week and in multiple venues.

It’s a parody of football as religion. It’s a super-spreader event disguised as a fun activity for the kids. It’s exploitation theatre, where well-paid coaches who talk about turning boys into men of character put those — can you still say this with a straight face — “student-athletes” at risk in the middle of a raging pandemic.

That any institution of higher learning would support this approach just shows how beholden they’ve become to the college football economy. And every Saturday we can see coaches on the sideline trying to un-educate viewers about how to stay safe as the coronavirus surges to a third peak all over the country.

We are all dumber for it.

The collective SEC sideline message on mask wearing has been very clear: “Fuck your mask rules.”

Two tissues and a rubber band? Yeah, that’s an SEC mask. See-through mesh? Totally a mask. Hat and scarf? Mask. One of those electric green mankini suits that Borat wore? Mask. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin wore this… thong?

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt turned heads in a piece of cloth that covered his neck and head, but not his mouth or nose.

Good for skiing, but not for stopping a respiratory virus from entering your piehole.

In the SEC, a mask worn down around the neck is not only a mask, it might just earn you public health coach of the year.

Do any of these schools plan to maintain a credible public health major? They realize that these coaches work for the same schools, right?

There have been hundreds of cases of the coronavirus associated with the insane push to get college football players — not all athletes, just the football players — back on campus and into gyms.

At least 31 games have been cancelled, and now coaches are testing positive as well.

Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has a confirmed positive case. Dan Mullen at Florida and Les Miles at Kansas are also on the list. Nick Saban and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne tested positive last Wednesday, although the school later said Saban’s test had been a false positive.

Derek Mason’s Vanderbilt had to postpone a game because there weren’t enough scholarship players available.

College football conferences wanted the sport back, they just didn’t actually put in the public health protocols to insulate teams, like the NBA, NHL, and WNBA did.

Instead, players and coaches are getting sick and those that are on the field are doing such a piss-poor job of modeling good public health practices that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is yelling into the back seat that he will definitely pull this car over if these kids don’t settle down back there. We all know an empty threat when we hear one.

Tennessee and Georgia face off before a sparse Athens crowd.

Tennessee and Georgia face off before a sparse Athens crowd.
Photo: (Getty Images)

“My premise is, our head football coaches are leaders, the most visible people in their programs,” said Sankey, as he tentatively held out the possibility of escalating fines. “They set the tone. They have that responsibility in this environment.”

Setting the tone, like when Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said back in June that we’d kick the coronavirus in the teeth. In June, he had 37 players test positive.

So no surprise that in October, Florida State fans high-fived in the stands after running back La’Damian Webb got the Seminoles within striking distance of the end zone. That’s right, if the collective denial is good enough for the unpaid labor, it’s good enough for thousands of ticket holders.

Even if Saban’s test had been a false positive, he could still show a little deference to the seriousness of the virus. Instead he pulled down his mask to firehose his respiratory droplets at an official in a fit of pique, and declined to wear his mask for the half-time interview.

Is this a fireable offense? Nope, and in fact it’s very much in keeping with college football’s approach to the virus. The virus doesn’t exist, and if it does exist it’s fine. And if it isn’t fine, then LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

Jamie Erdahl Buckman, a broadcaster who works SEC games for CBS, actually had to tweet at people to stop harassing her for choosing to wear a mask while she covers games. Which is honestly the most sensible thing to do, the way the virus is rocketing through teams. But it’s clear that SEC fans are picking up the message that is on TV screens every weekend, and that is one of defiance for any measure designed to mitigate this pandemic.

And hey, kids, science is cool. Take for example this Journal of American Medicine article about the connection between the coronavirus, myocarditis, and sudden cardiac arrest in athletes. The study found that 15 percent of COVID-19 positive athletes had evidence of myocarditis, despite being asymptomatic.

Unpaid college athletes shouldn’t be part of an experiment, and the risk they take shouldn’t be increased because their coaching staffs don’t like being told to wear a mask.

Not only has college football put players at risk, but entire communities as teams let fans in the stands. The enterprise is a drain on public health, and it’s making people more aggressively stupid about masks.

College football has failed to come back responsibly.

It’s time to pull the plug.

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