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‘Let us compete’: U-M student athletes call to lift COVID shutdown

All athletics activities paused over coronavirus variant outbreak

Michigan Wolverine cardboard fan cutouts are shown before a college basketball game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Crisler Arena on December 13, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fans are not allowed in the arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michigan Wolverine cardboard fan cutouts are shown before a college basketball game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Crisler Arena on December 13, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fans are not allowed in the arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR – A coalition of student athletes at the University of Michigan are calling for the 14 day shutdown of athletics to be lifted.

On Jan. 23, the U-M athletic department announced a two week pause of all games and training sessions at the recommendation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after several individuals in the program tested positive for the new, highly contagious COVID-19 variant.

“Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement over the weekend.

Now, student athletes are speaking out and have launched a petition to MDHHS to resume practices and competitions. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition was roughly 700 signatures short of its 5,000 goal.

“While we, the student-athletes at the University of Michigan, understand the severity of this virus and take it very seriously, we believe that this mandate from the MDHHS is unnecessary and should not only be reconsidered, but overturned,” reads the petition.

“Given the University’s knowledge of the situation surrounding the athletic department, should a total shutdown have been necessary, it should have come from the University of Michigan leaders.”

For clarity, a spokesperson for MDHHS said that it recommended a shutdown of all athletics, and that the measure was not mandated by the state.

“Placing the entirety of student-athletes in a mandated quarantine, instead of working it on a team by team basis, is unfair to the athletes who have followed all protocols necessary to compete and have had no contact with the confirmed cases,” reads the petition.

As of Monday, there were 13 known cases of the B.1.1.7 strain of the virus in Washtenaw County.

See the full petition text below:

The student-athletes at the University of Michigan recognize the severity of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and have done everything in our control to prevent the spread of this virus to the best of our ability. Recently, 5 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 strain have been found in the athletic department, which has triggered a shutdown of all athletic-related activity and the closure of all athletic facilities by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department. While we, the student-athletes at the University of Michigan, understand the severity of this virus and take it very seriously, we believe that this mandate from the MDHHS is unnecessary and should not only be reconsidered, but overturned.

We trust the guidance and leadership of those in charge of the health and safety of Michigan student-athletes. Given the University’s knowledge of the situation surrounding the athletic department, should a total shutdown have been necessary, it should have come from the University of Michigan leaders. Being members of both the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County communities is something that the student-athletes at the University of Michigan value and cherish. We have done everything to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the greater community at large, in order to protect those who support us. The student-athletes at the University of Michigan have done their best to create social bubbles in order to limit exposure and have opted in for extensive testing protocols in order to compete in the safest manner possible. The physical and mental health of every Michigan student-athlete is at risk due to the recent mandate set in place.

Based on the department’s testing policies, placing healthy students in quarantine is unnecessary and excessive. Placing the entirety of student-athletes in a mandated quarantine, instead of working it on a team by team basis, is unfair to the athletes who have followed all protocols necessary to compete and have had no contact with the confirmed cases. These student-athletes have gone above and beyond in order to earn the right to have a season in the midst of a pandemic. We believe that it is simply illogical to mandate a quarantine for the student-athletes given that at this point there are no extra recommended mitigation strategies outside of what athletes have already been in compliance with (masking up, social distancing, inner bubbles, etc.). The student-athletes at the University of Michigan stand united in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping every member of our community safe. We are asking the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider the blanket shutdown implemented on January 24th, and allow all the student-athletes that are healthy to return to all athletic-related activities.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Coalition of Student-Athletes

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.