Extended pause of winter contact sports in Michigan draws vocal opposition

Groups threaten lawsuits

Calls to allow winter sports to resume before the end of February may boil over into a legal battle, according to a group of parents, players and coaches from across the state.

LANSING, Mich. – Calls to allow winter sports to resume before the end of February may boil over into a legal battle, according to a group of parents, players and coaches from across the state.

Late last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) would be extending a pause on winter contact sports, namely hockey, wrestling and basketball, to Feb. 21 while allowing restaurants and concession in entertainment venues to reopen at 25 percent capacity.

READ: Detroit schools superintendent urges Whitmer to resume high school contact sports

Over the weekend the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan sent an open letter to the governor asking her to let sports start on Feb. 1. It said many student-athletes have started to cross state lines to play or are losing faith they’ll ever play again.

“They are doing what you asked them to do, but it’s been 10 months since we’ve played basketball in our state ... They are tired of being pushed back over and over again.”

Online, student athletes sent out their promises with phrases like: “I will hold myself and my team accountable” with the hashtag “#Letusplay” -- Many tagged Whitmer on Twitter. A petition is also circulating with more than 25,000 signatures to get the governor to restart contact sports.

The push to play is similar to the push last fall, which was eventually successful. Many winter sports teams this weekend have been watching their football teams play their final games without knowing if they’d even start.

But it also comes as a new more contagious variant of the coronavirus has begun to spread. the University of Michigan has put a 2-week pause on sports, including basketball. On Monday, a petition was started by group calling themselves a coalition of Michigan athletes asking for 5,000 signatures to show support for lifting the 2-week pause.

READ: New COVID variant in Michigan: 13 cases in Washtenaw County, 4 cases in Wayne County

“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,” the petition reads.

Despite the pause at the university, Detroit Community Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti is calling on the governor to let sports continue or face legal action in a letter sent Monday morning.

“The opposition, despair, and anger to the continuing suspension of winter ‘contact’ sports is rapidly growing in the city and across the state. Please do not let this frustration reach the level of a lawsuit against you and the state,” Vitti wrote.

He said that athletes during the recent high school football playoff were more than 99 percent negative when tested for the virus.

The state’s official outbreak tracker shows student activities, including sports, have low outbreak numbers compared to other potential hotspot areas like nursing homes or manufacturing plants.

According to the tracker the state activities account for 14 of the state’s 522 new and ongoing outbreaks, although testing standards and incentives do vary between hot spot areas.

READ: Continuous Michigan COVID coverage

About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.