Kueppers: Don’t put me in, coach

Why worry about a global pandemic or race relations when we can get another Golden Gophers first down?

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Henry Kueppers

In a different life, I was an all-star athlete. I could throw the pigskin with ease. I could run the length of an entire football field in 30 seconds. Nike, Wheaties and JCPenney all craved to have me as their model and spokesperson. I was a god among men as I hurdled over defenders, posed for cameras and scored some righteous touchdowns. It was good to be me. Alas, those glory days are over. Today, sitting here in my current life as an awkward, weird young adult with a figure that would make Gumby jealous, I have developed a new perspective on the sport of football. And here is my radical epiphany: The Big Ten restoring the football season is ridiculous.

I’m putting myself at risk here, speaking my opinions. I would not survive the wrath of a football team with players that have arms wider than my torso or the passion of a fan with maroon and gold face paint. But I have to speak my truth, even if it means the possibility of having to perform 10,000 push ups for Goldy the Gopher. It is simply ridiculous for the Big Ten to risk the health of players just so they can play a few more games.

The Big Ten originally canceled all plans to participate in football this fall, citing the coronavirus pandemic as their main concern. But I guess the Big Ten Conference either misplaced their spine or craved a few extra thousand dollars and decided that they would indeed go back on their decision and resume play in the fall. This rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons.

For starters, this plan details that each team would have to perform daily COVID-19 screenings on players, coaches and staff. They said that they would be implementing rapid testing, which is startling considering the fact that we really have no definitive proof that our current COVID-19 test procedures are 100% accurate. According to the University of Pennsylvania (yeah, I decided to get my information from the Ivy League), because we don’t know enough about the coronavirus, to say a test will yield perfect results is a fantasy. The virus can affect different people in different ways depending on certain variables, like what type of specimen they are testing and how it was collected.

Furthermore, it was not detailed clearly if the plan was to test before and after all games, practices or meetings. One would hope that they would do tests before and after events, but imagine if this was not the case. Players can go to and from games or practices, go out into the community for social events or just go home to their fellow housemates without proper testing. This creates the possibility of mass dispersion of the virus. The situation with the coronavirus is not getting better, so it’s disturbing to me that we just are all cool with going back to regular activities like this.

Hennepin County alone has had nearly 27,000 cases, and on Sept. 26, Minnesota reached an all-time high on cases reported in one day, calling in 1,470 people infected. To me, returning to football contains far too many risks and unknown circumstances to deem this an acceptable choice. Sure, people love to watch football, and yes, a lot of these players have futures that ride on them continuing to play in competition. To the players and coaches: I sympathize with you, but I truly believe that this is not the right move, especially in our world’s current landscape. Plus, I think that you could still make it professionally, even if you took just one semester off. And to the fans: Oh, buck up. Go watch some highlight reels, play Madden or go watch “We Are Marshall.” You’ll be okay.

The second biggest reason I was frustrated with this choice to resume football was the way Joan Gabel reacted to it. In an email sent on Sept. 16 to the University, Gabel wrote that she fully backed and supported this decision made by the Big Ten. Obviously, Gabel’s support upsets me because I think it is foolish to play football in the midst of a global pandemic. However, it also infuriated me that she was so quick to back up the football program, yet where was she when we needed her unwavering support for our Black and BIPOC students? This summer we protested, campaigned and demanded justice and Gabel basically said, “For sure, I totally agree with you guys, and we’ll get to the bottom of this issue pronto.”

Yet, here we are, with relatively little progress to show for it. And it’s not just President Gabel, it’s the entire University. Last year, the Board of Regents denied the motion to rename buildings on campus named after known racists. When the board turned down this proposal, hundreds of students protested and petitioned for justice. Yet, where was our school’s support for us, where was its unyielding help? Nowhere to be found. It’s despicable to go to a school where the institution shows support for sports over social justice and equality for its students. But hey, I guess we get to see Goldy the Gopher do some more push-ups this fall, so I guess I can’t really complain, right?