Tuesday, August 18, 2020


They love their football in places like Alabama and Mississippi. This isn’t news. But I don’t think we really appreciated how much these places truly valued football until COVID-19.

The value of life in places like Alabama and Mississippi? Not so much love.

The country’s divisions in poverty, health care, education and quality of life nearly run parallel to those football conferences that made the decision to go ahead and play with the country still suffering from fast-rising coronavirus rates — and the damage that comes with the disease.

The SEC, Big 12 and ACC are reportedly all going ahead with plans to play football this fall — which, I might add, is a time when COVID-19 rates may be even worse due to an expected second wave of the illness.

The Big Ten and the Pac 12? They have opted to not put their players at risk, even in the face of political pressure from coaches, players and even the White House to play.

“These football players are very young, strong people, and physically, I mean they’re physically in extraordinary shape,” President Trump told Fox Sports Radio last week. “So they’re not going to have a problem, you’re not going to see people, you know, could there be? Could it happen? But I doubt it.

Not playing the season, he said, would be a “tragic mistake.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted last week, “America needs College Football! It’s important for student-athletes, schools, and our Nation. These Great athletes have worked their whole lives for the opportunity compete on the college gridiron and they deserve the chance to safely get back on the field!”

They didn’t need any convincing in places like Louisiana, where the poverty rate is third in the country at 18.6%, or Kentucky, ranked sixth with a 16.9% poverty rate, according to Census Bureau statistics.

In fact, of the top 10 worst poverty-stricken states in the nation, all but one are in the SEC or Big 12 and will be playing football.

These are places where if it’s a choice between college football and health, it’s no contest. Health is not as high a priority in places like Georgia, ranked 50th according to WalletHub.com, or North Carolina, ranked 48th.

The University of North Carolina’s reaction to the news of a COVID-19 outbreak showed they earned that ranking. After a week of in-person classes, the school changed to online instruction after a wave hit them of positive tests. Positivity rates rose from 2.8% to 13.6% according to Campus Health. As of Monday morning, the school tested 954 students and have 177 in isolation and 349 in quarantine.

Football? It will go on.

“We are expecting to play this fall and we will continue to evaluate the situation in coordination with the university, ACC, state and local officials, and health officials,” school officials said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and community, remains our priority.”

As much as it can be a priority for a state that is scrapping the bottom of the barrel in America when it comes to health care.

“We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe,” Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist and chairman of the ACC’s medical advisory team, told Sports Business Daily. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”

In June, Dr. Wolfe told CBS 17 in Durham about the dangers of being close to other people, even outside. “If we are a foot apart from each other outside, I’m still close enough to pass this to you,” he said.

Like looking across from each other on the line of scrimmage.

There may be new rapid testing on the way that could significantly impact the chances of being spread.

But football season is less than a month away, and such tests would have to manufactured and distributed first. For now, you have to search long and hard to find doctors willing to give their stamp of approval to football this fall

Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University and member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel, told The New York Times, “I mean, I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play.”

They love their music in places like Mississippi — worst in the country with a 19.7% poverty rate, near the bottom of the education rankings at 46th and 47th in health care. And Alabama, ranked 49th in health care in America, 50th in education and the seventh worst poverty rate in the country, at 16.8%.

The dangers of playing football in these places in the age of coronavirus? Get in line.

• Hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and Wednesday afternoons on Chad Dukes Vs. The World on 106.7 The Fan.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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