Opinion: Protesting parents don’t get it. The Big Ten is looking out for football players’ health

No, the Big Ten doesn’t hate anyone’s kids. Nor is it governed by hypochondriacs or wusses who cower at the first sign of adversity.

That doesn’t seem like something that should actually need to be stated after the Big Ten postponed the football season because of COVID-19. But given some of the feelings expressed by parents who showed up Friday morning for a protest outside the conference’s offices, apparently it does.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 170,000 Americans. The idea that young people cannot get COVID-19 has been debunked. There is increasing evidence that those who’ve had the disease, even in its mildest form, can suffer long-term damage to their hearts, including myocarditis.

This is not some hypothetical, mind you. In the Big Ten alone, at least 10 players have already been diagnosed with myocarditis, and Georgia State quarterback Mikele Colasurdo announced Thursday that he won’t play this season because of the condition, which can cause heart attacks, strokes, even death.

Randy Wade, father of Ohio State's Shaun Wade, helped organize a parents rally on Friday outside Big Ten Conference headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. (Photo: Quinn Harris, Getty Images)

“The cardiologist was pretty confident it’s a case more on the mild side,” Colasurdo told The Athletic. “A lot of it is going to just be precautionary because they really just don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term.”

Let those words, from a college freshman who is also in peak health as an elite athlete, sink in for a minute.

“They really just don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term.”

Given the risk of that uncertainty, the question is not what is the Big Ten doing postponing the football season, but what the hell are those parents who are protesting the decision thinking? And are they voicing the feelings of their sons – who are legal adults at this point and can speak for themselves, by the way – or is this what the overzealous parents who scream at youth-league referees and berate rec team coaches look like when their kids are grown?   

The parents have a point that the Big Ten did a horrible job of communicating its reasoning and the medical information that influenced it. That point, however, has been made – over and over and over again – and commissioner Kevin Warren addressed those concerns in an open letter Wednesday.

The larger issue seems to be that the parents who showed up for the protest – I use that word loosely given there were more media members than family members – don’t really get the gravity of COVID-19 and its possible implications for their sons.

Or, if they do, well, sacrifices have to be made because, you know, football.

“You can’t tell us that the Big Ten can’t get it together (but) that the ACC can get it together. That the SEC can get it together,” said Andrea Tate, mother of Buckeyes cornerback Sevyn Banks. “The Big Ten can do the same.

“As we stand and fight, we need the Big Ten to stand and fight.”

There are a lot of ways to describe what’s happening in the ACC right now, but getting it together is not one of them. North Carolina and North Carolina State abruptly went to virtual learning this week after outbreaks on their campuses, and the Tar Heels have suspended football practice. Syracuse players sat out practice two weeks ago over concerns about COVID-19 testing.

Notre Dame, a quasi-ACC member this season, was forced to shut down its campus following a massive spike in COVID cases. The headline on Friday's front page of The Observer, the student newspaper, was “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

Meanwhile, SEC country is home to six of the 10 states that had the highest number of cases in the last seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control. With students just now returning at many campuses, it’s likely only a matter of time before the SEC is dealing with crippling outbreaks, too.

Julie Waggoner, mother of Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner, said the Big Ten should be driven by numbers in its own states, rather than national data. But the Midwest is a hot mess, too, with Illinois and Ohio in the top 10 of those seven-day numbers, and Indiana and Wisconsin not far behind.

“We obviously all are aware this has been a horrible last five or six months,” Waggoner said, via video from Outkick the Coverage. “We have also had to sit and listen every day to sad stories and tragedy, and I think everybody needs a little bit of football in our lives and try to make things work."

No, what we need is a responsible and coordinated national effort to get control of COVID-19. Then, and only then, will we be able to have college football.

Listen, I understand the parents are hurting for their children and would do just about anything for them. But their anger is misdirected. The Big Ten hasn’t failed their sons. It’s trying to keep them safe. 

The Big Ten has decided the health and safety of teenagers and 20-somethings is more important right now than football. That should be cause for praise from parents, not protest. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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