Ramogi Huma has had a front row seat to coercive physical, psychological and sexual abuse that takes place at the hands of college athletic departments and the NCAA.
As a former football player for the UCLA Bruins he suspects, given the monetary “conflict of interest” in college football, the season will start but he isn’t sure it will be completed. He says the unfortunate part is that there are studies out there that show college athletes are more susceptible to catching coronavirus, especially ones that play contact sports.
“A number of programs will push ahead to try to get through a season,” said Huma, the founder of the college athletics advocacy group NCPA. “I pray that a player doesn’t die in the meantime. Obviously, players’ health and safety is taking a back seat to the profits.”
Huma added that there are no health and safety standards in college sports. Among the conversations he has had with current Division I players, they aren’t being told of any guidelines that are being put in place for their safety with respect to COVID-19.
“There is a lack of transparency for the players,” Huma said. “They aren’t being told if they have a choice to not play and keep their scholarships. This kind of coercive return-to-play momentum where they’re not even told if there will be protocols or if there is a violation of a health standard. Just very dangerous.”
Two weeks ago, 30 UCLA football players demanded third-party health officials oversee practices and protocols. In a document released to the public via UCLA athletic health officials, the players also asked for whistleblower protection to report incidents of misconduct.
“Time and time again, we see individuals within (UCLA) Athletic programs who ought to defend and protect us leave us in the dark to fend for ourselves,” the document read, not pointing to a specific example. “Starting with neglected and mismanaged injury cases, to a now mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic, our voices have been continuously muffled, and we will no longer stand for such blatant injustices.”
As UCLA has pushed these demands to the mainstream stage, the college football season sits on the horizon. An uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases continues across college campuses and two weeks ago numerous college athletic programs shut down their voluntary workouts as the reports rolled in, Clemson, LSU and many other high esteemed programs are dealing with their own epicenters for major outbreaks.
These outbreaks were sparked by on-campus voluntary workouts. We haven’t even gotten to the season yet — and who knows if we ever will.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that has claimed the lives of nearly 130,000 Americans in the past four months. Pneumonia and various other complications are becoming increasingly common with COVID-19 patients. Data suggest patients that are entering graver outcomes have underlying health conditions which are important in the context of Black athletes and in this case Black male athletes.
How are Black men, particularly young Black men between the ages of 18-25 being affected by COVID-19? Those are the athletes that have propped up the NCAA’s bottom line for decades.
Black athletes accounted for 49 percent of FCS football players during the 2019-2020 season according to the NCAA demographic database.
Roughly 13.4 percent of African American children have asthma compared with just. 7.4 percent of white children according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, with young African American men are three times as likely to die from it according to 2016 CDC data. Von Miller who had the virus in April, saying he suffers from asthma citing the constricting of his lungs which was “frightening.”
High blood pressure in younger African American people has a direct correlation to systemic racism and thus higher levels of stress. African American children between the ages of 8-17 have a blood pressure rate over 1 and half times higher than white children in that same age range according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.
According to a 2012-2014 CDC study, African American children under the age of 19 had the highest diabetes death rate (2.04 per 1 million population), followed by white children (0.92) and hispanic children (0.61) with the disease being more prevalent per capita in African American youth. Type 2 diabetes is primarily caused by weight and diet which has shown to be consistent with lower household income levels.
Roughly one-third of one percent of African American children have Sickle Cell Anemia according to the CDC which alone can result in stroke or organ damage if the sickle-shaped red blood cells stick or block blood flow and oxygen.
All four of these conditions are listed under the Centers for Disease Control as underlying conditions that are key contributors in COVID-19 patients spiraling into severe outcomes with the virus.
And even the outlined NCAA advisory for athletes says athletes with underlying health conditions should minimize activity and “avoid exercising in a shared facility.”
Many younger victims that have succumbed to the disease are seeing a higher inflammatory response placing them into the hospital and resulting in a higher rate of blood clots. Many doctors are still unsure of why that is, but some of the virus’ younger victims do fall into the category of having an underlying condition stated above.
Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, a practicing professor and physician at UConn Health, said there is data pointing to blood clots forming from debris the body produces while fighting off the disease. The debris falls into the bloodstream, forming clots, he says, which can end up in any major organ in the body.
“There is evidence out there of that, and not only is it affecting older people but now it is affecting younger people,” Laurencin said.
If the blood clot forms in the brain, that results in a stroke. That outcome is what is bumping up the percentage of younger casualties from this virus. This type of common stroke, atherosclerosis, usually takes place in 74-year-olds. It’s now becoming increasingly common among hospitalized patients in their 20s and 30s.
Blood clots can also cut off circulation in the lungs or even lodge themselves into a person’s kidneys putting them onto a dialysis machine potentially resulting in death.
There’s a bizarre case where a 32-year old Chicago woman died suddenly with a swollen leg, pointing to a deep vein thrombosis according to the WGN9 station. She was well into the recovery phase but died due to a specific blood clot which is being found in 31 percent of ICU patients.
The lower oxygen levels brought about by the virus already puts strain on your heart but according to an early study, it’s becoming clear that alone is not contributing to increasing heart damage among COVID patients. Doctors are monitoring patients’ viral particles, which lead to inflammation of the heart muscle.
Among 416 hospitalizations in March, a study found, 19 percent show signs of permanent heart damage, which can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke down the line.
Huma commends the current UCLA players for standing up and making demands with respect to their health and holding on to their scholarship if the situation presents itself.
“You have just so many people, athletic staff that just look the other way,” Huma said of the system in college sports. “They are all just self-police...So why would players have any implications ever that their school would suddenly do the right thing.”
Adding that the head coach decides if a player can see a doctor and there isn’t any oversight with that, so an outside party is needed especially with a contagious virus like COVID-19.
While we play the guessing game on whether a college football season will proceed as planned, as the days pass, doctors are learning every day what other major organs have been impacted by this virus, currently patients who have become gravely ill from COVID-19 are suffering from heart, lung and kidney ailments.
Dr. Laurencin says the biggest thing with this virus is even if you catch it, and you experience a mild case of the virus that wouldn’t necessarily absolve you of long-term consequences down the road.
“It is not clear who will do really poorly,” Laurencin said. “There are new syndromes that are being described all the time including a COVID, fibrosis syndrome that can take place in the lungs. That can take place in young people. Where there is lung damage and lung scarring that can take place.”
Some patients have even caught the virus a second time.
One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle supported by science is Rudy Gobert’s story. Gobert, the first known professional athlete to get the virus. says he hasn’t fully recovered after catching it in March. Which brings back into question, why are we rushing to get back to business as usual? Why are sports back on the table?