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Can the Pac-12 player boycott start a nationwide movement?

“COVID has peeled back the curtain just a little more to give us an opportunity to make history,” Oregon lineman and Pinellas Park High alumnus Jordon Scott said.
Pinellas Park High alumnus and standout Oregon lineman Jordon Scott doesn't want to be a guinea pig for the NFL during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pinellas Park High alumnus and standout Oregon lineman Jordon Scott doesn't want to be a guinea pig for the NFL during the coronavirus pandemic. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]
Published Aug. 3, 2020

As astounding as it is that dozens of Pac-12 players across the league are threatening to boycott the season, the drastic decision also was inevitable.

The racial and economic tension at the heart of major college athletics was bound to ignite eventually. All it needed was a spark — and it got one with the once-in-a-century pandemic.

“COVID has peeled back the curtain just a little more to give us an opportunity to make history,” Oregon defensive lineman Jordon Scott said.

Related: Young people in Florida are also dying from coronavirus

Scott, a Largo native and Pinellas Park High alumnus, is among the players advocating for a series of reforms as the Pac-12 tries to kick off next month.

For Scott, the most pressing issues are societal; in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, he brought up the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and arresting the Louisville police who shot and killed Breonna Taylor before he said a word about his own health or the pandemic. Pushing to end racial injustice is a key part of the Pac-12′s demands.

But that goal would not have emerged in this high-profile way without the unprecedented and unknown health risks facing Scott and his classmates.

Although active young adults (like college athletes) do not face the same risks as older adults, the risk isn’t zero, either. Florida State offensive lineman Andrew Boselli said his bout with the illness this spring made him feel as if he had “been hit by a bus.” Arizona receiver Jaden Mitchell said he lost 14 pounds during his infection.

The long-term health risks are also unclear; any permanent damage to the lungs or heart could jeopardize a player’s athletic future.

Scott has seen the coronavirus’ devastating effects firsthand; he said it swept through his immediate family, infecting 10-15 people and killing his aunt.

“This is more serious than people think,” said Scott, an all-Pac-12-caliber player who has started 37 of the past 38 games for the Ducks. “These concerns are huge because we all know the only reason there’s a huge push for a season in a pandemic is for the economic gain, which takes in little account about the players’ health.”

Related: Gainesville, Tallahassee businesses agree: ‘God help us all if we don’t have football'

Scott’s last point is unique to college sports.

Unlike pro athletes, collegians can’t have a union to negotiate safety protocols and parameters. And unlike their counterparts in the NFL, college players are not highly paid professionals; they’re amateurs whose only financial compensation is a small stipend. That’s why the Pac-12 players’ demands include roster protection for players who choose to sit out, a ban on liability waivers that have come up at Ohio State and other schools and “player-approved health and safety standards enforced by a third party.”

Jordon Scott has started 37 of the last 38 games at Oregon.
Jordon Scott has started 37 of the last 38 games at Oregon. [ YOUNG KWAK | AP ]

Scott said he would feel more comfortable playing this season if he saw how it worked in the pros first.

“If we get sick it’s for free,” Scott said. “It’s for the gain of another man.”

That fact has always been true in the NCAA, but the pandemic has raised the stakes. The question now is whether other teams, schools or players follow the lead of the Scott and the Pac-12.

Related: Why the pandemic led FAMU’s Calvin Ashley to end his college career and focus on the NFL draft

No other organized movements have surfaced yet, but players across the country have expressed their support for the Pac-12. UCF defensive tackle Kenny Turnier echoed Scott’s thoughts on being a guinea pig for the NFL, calling college players “test dummies.”

“Yes I want to play, yes I want to change my family life but I don’t wanna risk my health in doing so,” said Turnier, who started six games last year.

USF offensive lineman Donovan Jennings retweeted the players’ #WeAreUnited graphics. So did at least a pair of notable Gators, receiver Jacob Copeland and defensive lineman Zachary Carter.

“Lets be honest,” USF defensive tackle Rashawn Yates wrote on Twitter, “if it was about our health and not money this would be going a lot different….”

The social media chatter took a turn Monday when Copeland and UF teammate Kadarius Toney publicly questioned whether the season was worth playing.

“(Opting out) just might be the better decision,” Toney wrote.

“Thinking it over,” Copeland replied, “you honestly might be right.”