UCLA Football Appoints Independent Adviser to Monitor COVID-19 Protocols

Blake SchusterAnalyst IJune 19, 2020

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson #7 of the UCLA Bruins looks to the sideline during a huddle in the first half of the NCAA college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl on October 20, 2018 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Following a document signed by 30 football players at UCLA demanding a third-party health official oversee all team activities to ensure COVID-19 precautions and testing are being adequately handled by the school, the university said it has met the requests of its athletes.

J. Brady McCollough of the Los Angeles Times reports the players sent the document to administrators Thursday evening in which they argued the program has "perpetually failed us" and "neglected and mismanaged injury cases."

On Friday, after the existence of the letter became public, Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel reported the program held a team meeting to address the situation.

The letter, obtained by the Times, was reported to specifically call out a lack of trust between head coach Chip Kelly and his players. Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is among those who signed their name to the demands, but he denied a lack of confidence in Kelly in several tweets on Friday. 

Portions of the document read: 

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"These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected. If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities. 

"The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision...

"Time and time again, we see individuals within [UCLA] Athletic programs who ought to defend and protect us leave us in the dark to fend for ourselves. Starting with neglected and mismanaged injury cases, to a now mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic, our voices have been continuously muffled, and we will no longer stand for such blatant injustices."

The document did not provide specific examples but called out the culture of the athletic department overall. 

In addition to third-party health officials, players called for anonymous whistleblower protections and the ability to decide whether or not to return to campus without fear of retaliation. 

UCLA senior associate athletic director for internal operations Matt Elliott told McCullough that UCLA had not guaranteed athletes' scholarships would be "protected" should they chose not to return to playing because of the virus. Scholarships are currently covered until October 1. 

New athletic director Martin Jarmond made clear at Friday's team meeting that no one would lose their scholarship for choosing to sit out due to the virus.

The school also says it has created an online portal that allows athletes to anonymously report the program officials to school faculty. 

In drafting the document, the players followed the lead of football players at the University of Texas who sent a list of demands to the school administration tied to social justice and racism on campus. The UT letter similarly said that players would not host recruits or interact with donors unless their demands were met. 

One UCLA player told McCullough: 

"We put our lives at risk every single time we put on that helmet. Now, with this, what people don't understand is, they say there's a .1% chance of somebody dying, but last time I checked, that .1% has to be somebody. We're going to come to a point where a college player will literally have to die from COVID-19 for someone to understand what's going on. I hope it doesn't have to reach that point."

UCLA voluntary workouts are slated to begin Monday, with players continuing to return back to campus over the weekend.