Republicans demand students play football despite ongoing virus risks

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'There's never anything that you do in life that's risk free,' said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Republicans have over the last two months repeatedly pushed for the return of high school and college football, despite evidence that the coronavirus that continues to spread across the country can kill young people or cause them long-term harm.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump told Clay Travis, a conservative sports radio host, that college football officials would be "making a tragic mistake" if they delayed or canceled the upcoming season.

"These football players are very young, strong people," Trump said, arguing, "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 — you're not going to see people dying."

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"Kids, they get it, they have the sniffles," Trump said.

"America needs College Football!" Mike Pence tweeted on Monday.

The comments from the two most senior Republicans echoed complaints other members of their party have made for months.

In June, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appeared on Travis' show and said football had to return "to continue giving us a unifying experience as a country."

As experts pointed out the danger of restarting athletics while millions are infected by the coronavirus, Rubio said they were part of an anti-football conspiracy.

"Don't be bullied by those who wanted to kill football even before Covid," Rubio tweeted in July. He also said that high school football had to restart because it purportedly helps "keep thousands of students in school & on track for graduation & college."

His fellow Floridian Gov. Ron DeSantis shared Rubio's concerns.

"What about having football season?" DeSantis asked. "We've got a lot of young kids who, this is their ticket to be able to go to college through athletics. What happens to all those dreams, and all those hopes, and all those aspirations?"

Florida was one of the states that experienced rapid increases in virus infection rates after their governments allowed businesses to reopen earlier in the summer, against the advice of health experts. But DeSantis remained steadfast.

"There's never anything that you do in life that's risk free," he said on Monday.

Fox News has jumped on the college football bandwagon as well.

"The ramifications are catastrophic," "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade said on July 16 of the decision by the schools of the Ivy League to cancel fall athletics, including football. "Find a way."

"America needs college football," Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted on Monday.

On the same day, Sen. Ben Sasse sent a letter to the presidents of the Big Ten conference. "This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don't cancel college football," Sasse wrote.

Yet while Republicans are pushing for a return to football, school sports are already facing virus-related problems.

Before school was even in session, the Georgia High School Association reported that over 600 students and coaches had tested positive for the virus after workouts began in June.

In the town of Lewiston, Minnesota, an outbreak of COVID-19 among six high school football players prompted a warning from the county that residents should be tested for the coronavirus if they had attended certain events.

Thirteen players in the Pac-12 college football conference have threatened to opt out of the season, citing concerns about inadequate safety measures and protocols that could lead to the spread of the virus.

More widespread concerns about school safety in general are emerging as the opening of the school season approaches.

Colleges such as Harvard and Georgetown have already announced that they are limiting the number of students who will be on campus in the fall, with the rest required to do courses online.

North Paulding High School in Georgia was forced to close down after a COVID-19 outbreak among students.

In the world of professional sports, where teams have millions more in funding available to spend on safety measures, the virus has also caused major disruptions.

Just two weeks into the Major League Baseball season, 29 games have ben postponed due to the virus. Virus outbreaks have occurred among the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins.

Thus far the National Basketball Association has avoided similar problems, but the entire league is playing in a so-called bubble in Orlando, Florida, with travel and contacts with outsiders severely limited.

That option would not be available to high school or college athletes.

Despite politicians' claims of immunity or mild cases of disease, children can die of the coronavirus. At least 86 children in the United States have died of it so far, and over 2,600 have been hospitalized.

The virus can have long-term effects on heart and lung health as well. And even if an infected child does not become sick, they can transmit the virus to family members and others whom they come into contact with.

Playing football today could have health consequences that ruin the lives of young people long after the games that Republicans have been pushing for are over.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.