The COVID-19 pandemic has left more questions than answers for the fall 2020 college football season, but one thing is certain: student-athletes want to play.
Since several Football Bowl Subdivision conferences announced they would not play in the fall 2020 college football season in mid-August, dozens of prominent student-athletes have shared their opinions on Twitter by tweeting #WeWantToPlay or calling for the season to go on. Among them are several Texas players, including junior safety Caden Sterns, junior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, redshirt junior defensive back Josh Thompson and senior defensive lineman Jacoby Jones.
“Let the ones who are actually playing make a decision,” Thompson tweeted. “No one should control what we want but us.”
#WeWantToPlay became one of the top Twitter hashtags a week after “Players of the Pac-12” published a statement in The Players’ Tribune titled “#WeAreUnited.” The requests included allowing players to opt out of the 2020 football season without losing athletic eligibility, a third party selected by players to enforce player-approved COVID-19 health and safety standards, and restructuring budgets to “preserve all existing sports by eliminating excessive expenditures.”
On Aug. 9, one day after the Mid-American Conference became the first Division I conference to announce it would not play fall football, junior Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence tweeted “#WeWantToPlay,” along with the statement “#WeAreUnited X #WeWantToPlay.” The statement contained a list of requests regarding player safety, eligibility and a college football players union. Dozens of student-athletes tweeted the same statement minutes after Lawrence.
The #WeWantToPlay movement, the latest development in a long history of player activism, is changing perceptions among college sports fans on what players can push for. College athletes are recognizing the influence they have at universities, said Markell Braxton-Johnson, a sports management graduate student.
“Sports fans, whether they’re donors of the universities or casual fans of college sports, are realizing now that universities and athletic conferences and the NCAA are raking in so much money and market shares in the sports landscape that they can’t deny the desires and wants of the players,” Braxton-Johnson said. “Now that’s being adjudicated in the public.”
Braxton-Johnson said university presidents are being placed in difficult situations in deciding whether or not to play the 2020 fall season, and the door to a potential players union could open if fall sports are played this year.
“Most students are doing online distanced learning, and if they have football players on campus during the fall, they less look like student-athletes and more look like essential employees,” Braxton-Johnson said.
However, the effectiveness of the #WeWantToPlay movement in changing the minds of conference commissioners and athletic directors is unclear. In an Aug. 19 open letter to the Big Ten conference community, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said discussions of resuming fall sports will not be revisited.
While the #WeWantToPlay movement may not have an immediate effect on conference commissioners, university presidents or athletic directors in their decisions to play or cancel fall sports, Braxton-Johnson believes player activism opens doors for future discussions.
“The question about whether (student-athletes) are employees of the university or not is going to have to be answered,” Braxton-Johnson said. “These player movements, they’re not going to go away. These players are going to increasingly realize the power and leverage they have, and they are going to force universities to answer that question one way or another.”