Just days after Mike Gundy was scorned by the public and his own players for wearing an OAN t-shirt, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly is now in the spotlight after 30 UCLA players put their name to a report citing Kelly's failures as they relate to injuries and player management and demanding a third-party health official for all football activities if they return to campus.
Los Angeles Times — After a virtual team meeting Thursday night, 30 UCLA football players united in support behind a document they believe will protect them in their upcoming return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The document, reviewed by the Los Angeles Times late Thursday, asserts that players do not trust coach Chip Kelly’s program to act in their best interest, particularly in regard to their health, a realm where it says UCLA has “perpetually failed us,” citing “neglected and mismanaged injury cases.” The document does not provide examples.
The players demanded that a “third-party health official” be on hand for all football activities to see that protocols for COVID-19 prevention are being followed; that anonymous whistleblower protections are provided for athletes and staff to report violations; and that each player can make a decision about whether to come back to Westwood without fear of losing his scholarship or other retaliation.
This is an era of player empowerment the likes of which we've never seen in collegiate athletics before. Other than Northwestern's football players attempting to form a union a few years ago, I don't really remember any instances of players holding demands over coaches like we've seen in the last week.
In addition to the situation at Oklahoma State, players at the University of Texas also threatened a boycott of sorts, citing campus landmarks with names tied to racist pasts and the school's fight song, "The Eyes of Texas," which has its origins in minstrel shows.
And while Gundy was able to meet with his players and — it appears — squash his situation before it became something which threatened his job, I don't know how Kelly is going to get rid of these charges as easily. If the UCLA players who put their names to this report are to be believed, this sounds like a pretty big issue, particularly when you're dealing with a health crisis as serious as COVID-19.
The players gave the following statement to the Los Angeles Times:
“These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected,” the document reads. “If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.
“The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision.”
I'm sure the players want to have as much leverage as they can here, but it sounds like they're pretty serious about not returning to campus if these demands aren't met. And if you put yourself in Kelly's position, you either look like the world's biggest asshole and like you're putting your players at risk with no third-party officials or you acquiesce to their demands and seemingly admit to the charges they make in their statements. There isn't exactly a winning scenario for UCLA here.
And while a third-party health official sounds like it could be a good thing for all college football programs this season, it sounds like the problems in the UCLA program run a little deeper than that.