Stop Asking Athletes to Risk Death to Stave Off Your Own Boredom

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Former Florida State Center Michael Ojo (right) died of a heart attack in Serbia in August after recovering from COVID-19.
Former Florida State Center Michael Ojo (right) died of a heart attack in Serbia in August after recovering from COVID-19.
Image: (Getty Images)

Our worst fear is now our reality.

Things are panning out exactly how our political leaders intended them to.

Remember when Texas Lieutenant governor Dan Patrick said in April about returning to “normal”?

“There are more important things than living... we’ve got to take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.”


“More important things than living,” huh…

I knew when Patrick said that, he wasn’t referring to himself.

A certain group of people were always going to have to die for his economy to stay propped up, and as a wealthy white man, that would not be him or his family.


Former Florida State center, Michael Ojo, collapsed in Serbia while participating in basketball training last month. Ojo had reportedly recovered from COVID-19 but his cause of death was a heart attack, which can be caused from heart inflammation brought on by COVID-19.

Ojo was 27-years-old.

In August, Debbie Rucker posted a heartfelt plea on Facebook, detailing the struggle, and potential heart damage, her son, Indiana University freshman football player Brady Feeney was suffering through after contracting COVID-19.

“Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems. Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!” Rucker wrote.

We as people “need” sports, though. We “need” entertainment.

Or, Jamain Stephens, the 6-foot-3, 355-pound defensive tackle at California University of Pennsylvania — and the son of a former Steelers offensive tackle Jamain Stephens. Stephens’ confirmed that he died of complications due to COVID-19 to NBC on Saturday.


He was 20 years old.

Twenty years old.


Stephens, a native of Pittsburgh, played three seasons at California University, which had already canceled its football season earlier this year because of the pandemic.

The news of Stephens’ and Ojo’s deaths comes as a group of GOP lawmakers in Midwest swing states ramped up pressure on Big Ten decision-makers to reinstate the fall sports season.


Meanwhile, it was reported last week that between 30 percent to 35 percent of BIG Ten COVID-19 positive athletes are showing signs of myocarditis — or heart inflammation — an increasingly notorious side effect of COVID-19.

“When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes — whether they were symptomatic or not — 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles (are) inflamed,” Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, Director of Athletic Medicine, told the Centre Daily Times last week. “And we really don’t know what to do with it right now. It’s still very early in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten’s decision to sort of put a hiatus on what’s happening.”


Look at what happened to Louisiana Tech. Its season opener against Baylor has been postponed because 38 players from the school have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. In the wake of a hurricane, plus the weight of the pandemic, the campus is in disarray.

This week’s Tulsa-Oklahoma State game has also been postponed after eight Tulsa players tested positive for COVID-19 in August.


Everything in U.S. society today is politicized. Everything.

Public Health. Medical advice. Racism.

All of these things are polarizing in today’s society, but we should be able to agree on listening to scientists, doctors, and aiming for an anti-racist world. But somehow, here we are making it a this-party versus that-party issue.


For some reason, it’s this false binary choice of picking a political party rather than looking at things from a human rights, data, and fact-finding standpoint; everyone wants to look at things through a lens.

Those rushing for sports to get underway are delusional.

We all know the story of Jordan McNair. Complete negligence by all parties within the University of Maryland’s athletic system led to his heatstroke, seizure, and untimely death, at just 19 years old, during football practice in 2018.


The details were even more gruesome. In the blistering summer heat, staffers didn’t take his temperature or apply ice water once they noticed he had overheated.

It was a complete breach of trust by all complicit individuals within the program.


Neither McNair nor Stephens would have died if those in positions of power, entrusted with the responsibility of making humane decisions, had acted as such.

McNair’s family in 2018 began the process of suing the university, seeking more than $30 million from the school, which will likely be the same tack the Stephens’ take against Cal University if it turns out Jamain died from complications of a virus he caught on campus.


But it didn’t have to be this way.

The lawsuits didn’t have to happen.

The players didn’t have to jeopardize their health. Athletes didn’t have to risk catching a virus to satisfy the entertainment desires of the masses.


The hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide didn’t have to happen.

None of this had to happen.

Everyone can sit patiently for the next 6 to 12 months until there is a vaccine and adequate treatment available for COVID-19. No one needs anything outside of food and shelter.


The wagering of lives for revenue and political gain is a gross reality in U.S. culture. Stephens’ tragic death is the latest reminder that we must work to change that reality.