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Safety in sports during a pandemic

College athletics tries to grapple with a long overdue conversation on race.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Oklahoma at Kansas State Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are currently at a particular moment in our history, one which has inevitably—and rightly—bled over into the sports world. Colleges all over the nation have made statements, some bold, others barely adequate to the occasion.

At Iowa, the current protests have empowered former football players to speak out about their experiences in Iowa City. Many players complained of unequal and unfair treatment by the staff, specifically strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. Head coach Kirk Ferentz offered a statement yesterday and placed Doyle on administrative leave.

Despite my general feelings about Iowa football, I feel no schadenfreude right now. Similar things could be (and probably are) happening at programs all over the country. This has to be considered part of the larger conversation we are having around race and inequality right now. Building a “culture” can mean various things, and it’s obvious that that culture has broken down at a number of a programs.

Kansas State’s athletic department has certainly taken a stand. In addition to its own messaging, the department’s official social media accounts have shown support for protesting student-athletes and attempted to amplify their voices. More recently, the athletic department has provided a list of resources for those who want to help and/or participate in the movement to acknowledge and eliminate systemic racism.

Former Kansas State coaches are speaking out too. Brad Korn, in his first year as basketball head coach at Southeast Missouri State, said he’s willing to engage in awkward conversations on race and acknowledged that coaches have a greater responsibility. Similarly, former offensive line coach Charlie Dickey, whose wife is African-American, has “many concerns for my children and grandchildren” and urged that “It’s time to begin to take a stand against racism and together do something.” Finally, former basketball head coach Frank Martin, who was recently named chair of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC)’s committee on race, had this to say:

I think as a leader of young college kids, especially in our sport where a good percentage of them are African Americans, I think it’s important that we educate our players and that they know that we are with them, and here to help them and guide them and continue to create ways for them to find success.

Meanwhile, Kansas State continues to prepare for a rapidly evolving sports calendar, specifically with football players reporting to training on June 15th. Unfortunately, there’s no standard operating manual for bringing athletes back to campus during a global pandemic. Still, the school has a strategy in place for screening and testing athletes (not just football players) as they return to campus, and the hope is that they can identify not only those athletes who need to be isolated but also those who may have been previously infected with Covid19 but have since recovered. In addition, workout groups will be organized according to players’ current living arrangements, which will make it easier to contact-trace and isolate should any player(s) test positive. Finally, players will be asked to wear newly designed masks during workouts in addition to the typical masks currently worn outside. Similar screening and testing tools are already in place for football staff.

Amazingly, this is not all the sports news on Sunday. As many of you are already aware, the NCAA Committee on Infractions has put Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball program on probation, including three lost scholarships and a one-year postseason ban, on top of the school’s self-imposed sanctions. The penalties are severe and stem from Level I violations involving former assistant Lamont Evans accepting bribes to direct Cowboys players to specific agents and financial advisors. Oklahoma State is appealing the decision.

As Kansas State fans, our immediate interest in this news has a lot more to do with our frenemies in Lawrence than with Oklahoma State itself. KU was also implicated in the FBI probe that led to the Cowboys’ sanctions. Could the Jayhawks face similar penalties? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, especially considering Oklahoma State got the banhammer for just one Level I violation, while Kansas was cited for five.

Also, in other KU news, the school has reached a settlement of $2.55 million with former head football coach David Beaty. Considering that Beaty was owed $3 million when he was fired, Kansas saved approximately $45,000 (edit: or, you know, $450K) in the process, probably less than the legal fees the school has already paid in connection with Beaty’s lawsuit. (This is the appropriate place for schadenfreude, Purple People).

That’s all, folks! Have a good Sunday, stay safe, be happy.