If you’re a California high school football player, you might be watching Tom Brady and the Bucs take on Drew Brees and the Saints this afternoon. You might have watched Alabama claim yet another national title last week. And you might be in touch with friends in other states who just finished their high school seasons.
All the while, your own pads remain in your locker. Such is the fate of a California kid these days: subject to life-altering restrictions for no good reason at all.
Youth sports have been shut down for 10 months, affecting nearly three million young athletes. California is one of only six states that cancelled high school fall sports and haven’t set a start date. The vast majority of states completed their fall seasons without problems.
To protest this irrational policy, student-athletes have held hundreds of rallies across the state, and the Let Them Play Facebook group has grown to 56,000 members.
The evidence from other states is clear. For instance, in Nebraska 98.9 percent of 928 teams participated in the football playoffs. In Pennsylvania 3226 games were played out of 3424 scheduled, and there was not a single reported case of team-to-team transmission in any sport.
The data from California confirms this safety record. There’s been one case of transmission for every 103,766 times football players have participated in informal workouts. For coaches, it’s one out of 69,622. No one has gone to the hospital.
One coach noted there have been baseball tournaments in almost every other state: “They’ve been run safely,” he said. “They’ve had high attendance. They’ve been done the right way. Players enter and exit the field with masks. Social distancing is required. Social distancing among fans is required. Wiping down equipment before and after the game is required.”
While no one can show meaningful harms from allowing youth sports, the harm of banning them is incalculable:
- Friendships: At the rally I attended, several students spoke about the friendships, camaraderie, and team-building that are part of playing sports, and how they feel like they’re being robbed of memories that would last a lifetime.
- Mental health: Coaches have reported the absence of sports “can lead to increases in mental health problems, like anxiety, ADHD and suicide.” Ron Gladnick, head football coach at Torrey Pines High School, said “more kids have come to him with trouble in the past 10 months than in his previous 14 years of coaching.” He said there are “kids who don’t want to get out of bed. ‘Why should I get out of bed? There’s nothing to get out of bed for.'”
- Academics: Coaches noted that “without the competition element, some kids are losing interest in school and harming their education.” One sophomore said: “I think sports helps me focus in school. If I don’t have sports, I can’t focus. If I can’t focus, I can’t learn.”
- Recruiting: Student-athletes are losing opportunities to earn scholarships and play at the college level. One senior said, “I’ve gone my whole life playing baseball so being able to play in college would be a big honor, but the scouts, all these games if we miss it, the scouts won’t be able to see us.” While the NCAA is giving student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, there’s no such remedy for high school athletes.
- Transmission: Perversely, the ban may actually be increasing spread of COVID-19. Sports provide a safe and structured environment. When that goes away, some students might be “doing all sorts of things that helps spread the virus,” one coach said. In fact, “many athletes are gathering for pick-up games or even traveling out of state with their families for tournaments instead of staying home.”
The most infuriating response to Friday’s rallies came from San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher: “If you’re facing 3rd and long, that’s a situation where you oughtta listen to football coaches,” he said. “If you’re facing a global pandemic, that is a situation where you oughtta make sure you’re listening to public health experts and doctors.”
That condescending remark sums up everything that’s gone wrong in California over the last year. Here’s how I responded at a recent Let Them Play rally:
Kids in California are seeing everything that’s wrong with our government, but they’re also discovering their own power to make their voices heard.
It’s so important that young people come out of this dark era not with a tolerance for authoritarianism but with an appreciation for its evils. They can help light the new spark of self-government we’re already seeing in the 1.4 million Recall signatures.
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