Privilege Abounds in Petition to Bring Back Spring Sports

When the College announced the decision to cancel all spring sports, Oberlin athletes were understandably upset. As a former athlete who had seasons stolen by injury, I know the pain of losing a season. I have also seen how the cancellation of both fall and winter athletics shook student-athletes on campus. It is yet another unfortunate event in a long, long series of unfortunate events that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.

But it’s not a tragedy.

The tragedy is the pandemic itself. The pandemic that, at the time of writing this article, has claimed well over 2 million lives and infected over 100 million people — with no foreseeable recourse to its immense impact.

Despite that, millions across the world have refused to take the pandemic seriously and, as a result, COVID-19 continues its global assault. Recently, a new faster-spreading strain of COVID-19 was discovered and has already made its way to the United States and Northeast Ohio. 

WNBA player Asia Durr, who contracted the virus in June of last year, recently announced that despite now being clear of the virus, she has no timetable for returning to play and that, in fact, her career may be in jeopardy.

“I haven’t been able to [practice basketball],” Durr said in an interview with CBS. “It’s really challenging for me. But I’ve talked to doctors and they’ve told me I’m not cleared yet. I’m not cleared to be able to do anything physically, which could cause flare-ups. … And that’s what’s really hard for me because in life whenever something was hard I would go and play. I can’t even do that now. I can’t even shoot a free throw.”

So, with all of that knowledge, seeing a petition floating around demanding that the College reinstate spring sports has me incredibly upset. No, not just upset. Angry.

The petition lays out its argument on the basis of three main points. It argues that sports can be conducted safely, that cancelling sports jeopardizes student-athletes’ mental health, and that other similar institutions are planning on moving forward with athletics. All of these arguments are flawed.

Firstly, sports cannot be conducted safely. Period. Oberlin College is not the NBA. If we were to return to athletic competition, there would be no bubble. We don’t have the resources to safely facilitate athletic competition. Colleges having people on campus is already a massive risk, as we saw in the fall when several schools sent students home due to outbreaks. Many athletic conferences across the country cancelled fall and winter sports. The ones that didn’t were unable to keep everyone safe. If Clemson University couldn’t keep Trevor Lawrence, Heisman Trophy finalist and soon to be No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, from contracting COVID-19, then I promise you Oberlin College can’t stop it from getting to our lacrosse team.

In my opinion, the petition’s second point on mental health is the strongest one. Mental health should always be taken seriously, and I agree that the loss of spring athletics will in all likelihood negatively affect the mental health of some student-athletes. I cannot express how much I wish that this were not the case — and cannot stress enough how seriously this statement should be taken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to mental health on a wide scale. From feelings of isolation to grieving over the death of a loved one, nearly everyone has experienced a blow to their mental health. This is not to say that some mental ailments are more important or severe than others — rather, the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of millions and so we should be doing everything in our power to stop it, which includes cancelling spring sports to minimize risk between now and the point in time where we have reached herd immunity through vaccinations.

Lastly, those petitioning make the point that institutions and governing bodies similar or connected to Oberlin have decided to move forward with spring athletics. The petition specifically mentions that both Lorain County and the NCAC have green-lighted competition. My only reply is: If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?

[Mothers everywhere cheer. I bow and exit stage left.]

All of those are reason enough to be angered by this petition. Many who have taken the pandemic seriously have been angered by those who haven’t. But this petition angered me on another level, beyond the basic “WHY CAN’T PEOPLE JUST WEAR THEIR MASKS!” frustration.

Here’s my biggest issue with the petition: It presents itself like it’s a social justice issue.

For one, the petition is hosted on Admittedly, nowhere on the site does it specify what petitions should be created for. But I think the site should primarily be used for the purposes of social justice, and it appears that many agree with me. When I visited, the majority of petitions I saw gaining traction involved bringing police officers who murdered people to justice, releasing wrongfully or unjustly convicted people from prison, and several similar topics. Using such a platform so you and your buddies can play baseball is appalling to me.

Additionally, the petition states that “[sports crosses] all social, economic and racial barriers – and provides an opportunity to express who we are as human beings. It produces committed leaders who know about unity, sacrifice and hard work.” And I agree. I believe that athletics are the great equalizer in a lot of ways. But to suggest that they are at this time the primary way that social, economic, and racial barriers can be overcome, especially at Oberlin, is laughable and offensive to all of the people on campus who are doing that work. 

Also, the fact that the petition claims athletics creates people willing to make sacrifices, while itself refusing to sacrifice spring sports for the good of others, is comical.

Spring athletes, I understand that many of you are upset. I really do. But this petition reeks of privilege. It screams that spring sports at Oberlin College is the most important thing to its creators and signers right now. If that’s the case, I envy you. But it also means that this pandemic has not hit you the way it has hit so many others. That means you should be more sensitive and more responsive to those it has affected, and who are telling you we don’t want to see you competing until we know it’s safe. Respect that.

Does it suck that spring sports have been sidelined? Absolutely. Do I wish all of my friends, who have worked so hard for their senior seasons, were able to see the fruits of their labor? You bet. Does that mean I think spring sports should come back this year? Not a chance in hell.