Colorado State football players allege officials are covering up COVID-19 health threatBlau Medical News
Miles Blumhardt, Fort Collins Coloradoan
Published 8:41 p.m. ET Aug. 4, 2020 | Updated 10:52 a.m. ET Aug. 5, 2020
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports sat down with former NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France to discuss the possibility of no college football this season and the financial ramifications that would follow.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State football players and athletic department staff say coaches have told players not to report COVID-19 symptoms, threatened players with reduced playing time if they quarantine and claim CSU is altering contact tracing reports to keep players practicing.
And they say those actions by the athletic administration are putting their health at risk in return for monetary gain the school would receive if fall sports are played.
Football players said they would like to play this season but don’t believe there should be a season given the spike in positive cases on the team in the past two weeks and the threat of more once Colorado State’s full student body comes to campus later this month. The school shut down football workouts on July 29 after eight in the football program tested positive.
“I believe there is a coverup going on at CSU,” said a current football player who spoke to the Coloradoan, part of the USA TODAY Network, on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “But they could only cover it up so long and now that we have so many cases across athletics, they can’t cover it up anymore. It’s not about the health and safety of the players but about just trying to make money off the players.”
Said an athletic department staff member, who also spoke to the Coloradoan on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution: “There are some red flags in the athletic department, but the common denominator with this administration is to protect the coaches before the student-athletes and that makes them feel more like cattle than student-athletes.”
The player and staff member were two of 10 players and staff who contacted the Coloradoan in the past week regarding CSU’s handling of athletics and COVID-19. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
CSU athletic director Joe Parker said he is disappointed in the criticism but believes CSU has a solid COVID-19 plan in a time of uncertainty and fluidity.
“This (student-athlete) population is the most tested population there is here, but obviously some feel that is not a good enough job to make them feel comfortable regarding their health,” he said. “If that’s the feeling, we will need to amp it up.”
Football players and staff acknowledged it is virtually impossible to strictly adhere to COVID-19 policies because of the nature of the sport. Still, they feel pressured to practice and play. One player told the Coloradoan that coaches have told players not to tell trainers if they have symptoms because they had so many athletes held out of practice.
In response to the player alleging they were told not to report symptoms, Parker said that is unacceptable and runs counter to everything the university is doing to avoid spreading the virus.
Parker said previously that there were no positive COVID-19 tests for athletes as of July 20. That number spiked to 16, including 11 football players, as of Sunday.
Like universities across the country, CSU has in place guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state health department and the NCAA in an effort to have fall sports seasons. That includes testing, temperature checks, social distancing, mask requirements, quarantining and a host of other barriers to contain the spread of the virus.
Players said a number of athletes from different sports attended a party around the Fourth of July holiday and that may have been a root cause of the recent surge in positive tests.
Parker agreed the incident appears to have spurred the increase. He said as difficult as it is for student-athletes to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures outside of practices, not abiding by those guidelines puts themselves and other players and staff at risk.
Players and staff confirmed to the Coloradoan that there were 27 players, about a quarter of the team, missing because of COVID-19 at the last practice July 29 before the university voluntarily paused practices.
Monday, CSU tested 150 athletes. Results are expected on Wednesday or Thursday.
“Because we didn’t have student-athletes with us over our football pause, I don’t know what will we see when they return to campus,” Parker said. “I hope the Fourth of July was a wake-up call.”
Katie O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Larimer County health department, confirmed CSU voluntarily shut down practices but said the department was keeping a close eye on the program before that due to the rising number of positive cases.
Players and athletic staff said they believed the pause should have happened a week earlier but that coach Steve Addazio was adamant to get practices in. Addazio was not made available for comment.
Players said trainers stress adhering to safety guidelines during training but compliance is difficult. They said they are supposed to wear face coverings during conditioning and practice drills, but the masks make it hard to breathe so many players take them down.
Players and staff said Addazio, 61, and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, 67, rarely wear their masks. They said that is dangerous to themselves because of their age and also sets a bad example for the team.
Players and athletic staff also voiced concern over the reporting protocol, claiming quarantine procedures vary wildly and that coaches are coercing health administrators not to quarantine athletes so they can continue to practice.
Parker disputed the claim.
“There is no influence from our coaching staff on those kinds of decisions and those decisions are made outside of the athletic department and that is the way I want it,” he said.
Do you have a tip or sensitive information you want to share? You can reach out to USA TODAY Sports anytime at SportsTip@usatoday.com.