Let’s start with this: we miss high school football. We miss the Friday night lights. We miss the sense of community and togetherness that high school football can bring at a time when we need it.
There is a very real mental toll that this pandemic has created for kids and adults alike and must be acknowledged. This has been difficult. We can’t wait for it to be over, and to be in the stands again.
But it has to be safe.
This Saturday, there are two rallies planned in Illinois, one in Chicago and one in Springfield, calling for the immediate return of Illinois high school sports and activities.
The rallies were sparked by the efforts of athletes, parents, friends and fans and have drawn support from IHSA coaches statewide.
Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that is not currently participating in or has an upcoming date set for the return to play for all sports, though some fall sports are being contested including golf, tennis swimming and cross country. Michigan recently overturned a ruling that had its fall sports on pause until the spring and is now set to return to play its fall sports in a time frame close to its original scheduling.
“[Other Midwest states] have all very high positivity rates; double-digit positivity rates in most,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said at a Tuesday news conference that all but ruled out any chance of the protesters’ demands being met by the Governor.
“Those are states, fine, if they decided to endanger children and families in those states by allowing certain contact sports to take place that is their decision,” Pritzker continued. “It’s not something that is good for the families and the children of Illinois.”
The response from some has been to reference an article from FootballScoop, a website dedicated to football coaching job information, headlined, "Over 1,000 high school football games already played, zero reports of community COVID spread.”
Unfortunately, that headline has been conflated to mean several things it does not. We’ve seen too many social media posts that say this headline means there are zero cases connected to football. Let’s be clear: it does not mean that. And we should also keep in mind that contact tracing in this country is absolutely nowhere close to where it needs to be to actually define where community spread starts in most states.
Just in the past 48 hours, COVID-19 cases and school/community related-outbreaks have canceled games in Eldon, Missouri, Utica, Michigan, Tulsa, Lorena, Texas, Lampasas Texas, Carrollton, Georgia, Early County, Georgia, and we could run this list on for several more paragraphs.
We’re not saying zero cases should be the goal to restart all fall sports - that would be impossible and unreasonable until there is an effective vaccine distributed, but we’ve seen too much conflation between zero spread and zero cases, and thus zero effect.
If there is one thing that has been true about this pandemic it is this: the more you open up, the more risk you take on and you’ll see more cases of this virus, of which we still don’t have a full grasp of the long-term health effects.
Although we have questioned several decisions by the Governor through his executive orders throughout this pandemic - only two people allowed per boat and no dancing at bars stand out among the most ridiculous - we have a question for the protesters.
What is the plan?
We understand the anger. We acknowledge the very real mental anguish of not being able to do the thing you love. But what exactly is your plan to get back to it safely?
Professional and major college sports can test daily and isolate the infected rather easily. That still hasn’t stopped games from being canceled or teams showing up to a game with tens of players out for infection or isolation. High schools can’t test at the same level.
We’ll assume you care enough about public safety that you’ll test before football games - what happens when a player tests positive and misses the game? What are you going to do about HIPAA and the stigma that may come with a kid missing a game and everybody in school knowing the reason why is COVID-19?
If you want these rallies to be taken seriously, what public health information and experts do you have on your side? What epidemiologists or infectious disease specialists are willing to make your argument in public for you? If you have them, bring them. We want to hear the science that backs it up and advocates for your position.
Or is this rally going to be highlighted by radio talk show hosts and basketball/soccer tournament owners who stand to profit from sports returning to play? A coach’s speech may fire you up, but to do what, exactly?
Saturday can’t just be pointing at a nearby state and wondering why you can’t have candy, too.
Bring your playbook.