Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Ben Sasse Writes Deranged Letter to Big Ten

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, threw in his two cents on college football’s return.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, threw in his two cents on college football’s return.
Illustration: Getty

There are a lot of things going on in this country right now. America is the laughingstock of the world after being unable to contain the COVID pandemic, largely because a non-insignificant portion of the population has decided to believe anti-vax Facebook posts over actual science. We’re in the midst of a racial justice movement not seen in this country in 60 years. Oh, and the President is trying to destroy the U.S. Post Office so that people, concerned about venturing to the polls with the virus raging, can’t vote by mail in November.

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It’s not like there aren’t things to think about.

Which makes it all the more bewildering that Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) took time out from penning batshit commencement speeches and voting against COVID relief packages to write a demented and sad letter to Big Ten Officials, begging them not to cancel college football.

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Sasse, who is up for re-election this year in Nebraska (home to one of only two Big Ten schools that voted to play this fall) doesn’t exactly start out strong, stating that “Life is all about tradeoffs.” Exactly! Like the tradeoff of refusing to wear a mask in May meaning no college football in October. I have a feeling that’s not what Sasse means, though. The key to using a “tradeoffs” line is that you have to lay out what the tradeoffs are. Sasse, wisely, decided “the health and well-being of college football players and their families” versus “me getting to watch college football” didn’t sound all that great, so he left that part out.

He moves on to a humblebrag: “As a former college president, I know many of you actually agree — because I’ve heard multiple presidents say it when the cameras aren’t rolling.” This is the political version of taunting people with “I know something you don’t know.” And saying that numerous college presidents agree with you, especially when the topic is about putting “student-athletes” in harm’s way — because your pals don’t want to miss out on that sweet, sweet college football money — isn’t the flex Sasse thinks it is.

But the pièce de résistance is yet to come: “Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence have made similar points persuasively.” Persuasively! Because I was definitely persuaded by college football players, as opposed to epidemiologists and public health officials, arguing they should get to play football.

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My first thought on reading Lawrence’s tweets last night, which of course was crowed to the rafters by the ghoulish Laura Ingraham, was that he had no basis for the claim that “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract Covid-19.” It sounds good, but is based on what Lawrence (and Ingraham) personally think will happen, not any kind of scientific data. I could just as easily point to the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins and say, “Players are far more likely not to observe social distancing when in a group of buddies that want to go out on the town.” Neither claim has any real basis in science.

Yet a sitting U.S. Senator is pointing to a tweet by a 20-year-old college student who desperately wants to play football, and he’s using it to back up his own argument. Hey, my college student wanted to go on Spring Break last year, I didn’t let him do it because I’m the adult in this situation.

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Sasse continues: “Cancelling the fall season would mean closing down socially-distanced, structured programs for these athletes.” Curiously, Sasse makes no mention of the alliances of players who don’t think their programs will take proper precautions, or who have already had experiences with coaches minimizing COVID, or any of the other glaring complications we’ve already seen.

Then Sasse tries to shame the Big Ten with the same tactic coaches use to fire their team up in the locker room: Telling them no one believes in them!

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“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football,” writes Sasse.

In what world has this ever been the case? Setting COVID aside for a second, the sub-concussive blows alone make no football safer than football. Jesus, Ben. “But you also know you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” Sasse continues.

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I feel like I heard somewhere that Sasse used to be a college president and, as such, he should understand the massive liability colleges are opening themselves up to by holding the season. This isn’t about not wanting to be “blamed,” as much as it’s about whether or not insurance companies are going to defend colleges in lawsuits if a player gets really sick, has lasting heart problems, or (God forbid) dies. Strike this entire paragraph as either completely disingenuous or monumentally incompetent.

Sasse finishes up by trying to go all Herb Brooks: “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel football.” Not exactly “Great moments are born of great opportunity.” Does it really make that much of a difference if the teams play in the fall or in the spring? Sasse implies that football players without a season will be aimless, partying all night, and by day, wandering campuses in search of health care. What does he think athletes do during their offseasons? Get put in storage until next fall? There is always an offseason for athletes. Shouldn’t that offseason take place while the country is struggling to get a virulent pandemic under control rather than in the midst of it?

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We get it, Ben. You want to watch college football in the fall. But hey, maybe use the extra time on your hands to look into getting that COVID relief bill passed.

Former sports-talking / law-talking chick. Push out the jive, bring in the love.

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