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Pac-12 student-athletes threaten opt-out unless league addresses concerns

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Student-athletes from other conferences could follow suit

Pac-12 Championship Game - Oregon v Utah Alika Jenner/Getty Images

After a week in which multiple Power 5 conferences announced tentative plans to proceed with a fall season, even as the country struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, a group of Pac-12 student-athletes have decided to make their voices heard.

In a statement published via The Players’ Tribune, hundreds of student-athletes writing under the banner “Players of the Pac-12” announced their intentions to opt out of fall camp and game participation unless a list of demands are “guaranteed in writing by our conference to protect and benefit both scholarship athletes and walk-ons.”

The demands seek COVID-19 protections for student-athletes and the mandatory implementation of health and safety standards, in addition to preserving all existing revenue and non-revenue sports and addressing issues of racial injustice and economic inequality.

You can read the full text of their demands here.

Fair compensation for student-athletes has been a topic of debate for decades, but the ongoing pandemic has magnified the billions of dollars in revenue that these student-athletes help produce, despite not being able to profit from their own names, images, and likenesses. The unmitigated spread of COVID-19 has also raised health and safety concerns on college campuses, as universities weigh whether to hold in person or online classes or a combination of both. The distinction between students and student-athletes — several of whom have already been asked back to campus for summer workouts — has never been more stark.

Black Americans have also been disproportionately affected by the spread of the coronavirus, dying at 2 1/2 times the rate of white people, according to the Covid Tracking Project. And this is all occurring against the backdrop of a civil rights movement spurred by the death of George Floyd, which precipitated protests against systemic racism and police brutality.

Several of the student-athletes, who are hoping to engage in formal negotiations with the conference, spoke on record with Sports Illustrated to provide further context for their demands. Oregon defensive back and Thorpe Award semifinalist Jevon Holland spoke to the uncertainty student-athletes face under the cloud of COVID-19:

“We’re not your entertainment, we’re human beings,” Oregon safety Jevon Holland told SI. “Just like you would help your family, we want to help our mother, father, grandmother, everyone.

“We don’t know the long-term risks. We have no idea how it’s going to affect our body regardless if we show symptoms or not. I refuse to put my health at risk for somebody else’s benefit.”

This very well could be a watershed moment for college athletics, and Cal offensive lineman Valentino Daltoso made clear that this group is well aware of the impact their stand could have on the future of amateur sports:

“Guys realize the moment and are standing together in unity throughout this whole thing,” Daltoso said. “This is bigger than our individual selves. This is for all future college athletes.”

It is uncertain whether student-athletes from other conferences will follow their example, but it will certainly be interesting to see how the situation unfolds from here.