Pac-12 players publish ‘#WeAreUnited’ open letter to conference

Athletes call for economic, racial reform as uncertainty of 2020 football season builds

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More than 400 Pac-12 players wrote an open letter in The Players’ Tribune to the Pac-12 and NCAA on Sunday, in which the football players threatened to boycott the Pac-12 fall camp and games unless the conference met a number of the players’ demands. Among these demands were addressing racial and economic injustices in the NCAA and guaranteeing COVID-19 protections and safety precautions. 

“Because NCAA sports exploit college athletes physically, economically and academically, and also disproportionately harm Black college athletes,” the players wrote. “#WeAreUnited.”

Players demanded that they have the option to opt out of playing during the pandemic without risking eligibility or their spot on the team. They also said that for those that do choose to play, there must be certain health and safety standards, which they also wish to approve beforehand.

According to Sheldon Jacobson, a University of Illinois computer science professor, there could be a 30-50% infection rate among the about 13,000 college football players this season. Among those, three to seven could die due to complications from the virus. 

Players are also calling for serious social justice reform. They have demanded that a civic-engagement task force be created to help fight issues like racial injustice, as well as directing “2% of conference revenue… to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.”

The Pac-12 players have also demanded economic freedoms, including the right to earn money from their name, image and likeness — as well as six years of medical insurance after college eligibility ends. 

98% of collegiate basketball and football players will never reach the professional level, thus never giving them the chance to profit off their athletics. Collegiate sports, however, are multi-billion dollar industries. In 2015, all Division I NCAA schools made a combined profit of $9.15 billion.

Players are also calling for universities to use some of their endowment funds to reinstate all sports that were discontinued this summer. As an example, they used Stanford, and how they should tap into their 27.7 billion dollar endowment — the third largest in the nation — to reinstate the 11 varsity sports that were cut a month ago. 

How the Pac-12 and NCAA might respond to the demands remains to be seen. The NCAA recently allowed players to have social justice statements or names in place of their names on jerseys, but these asks stretch well beyond measures agreed to by the NCAA thus far.

Most Pac-12 schools have yet to comment, but Washington State University’s Kassidy Woods and other football players were recently cut from the team after they shared the #WeAreUnited graphic on social media. 

WSU head coach Nick Rolovich disputes that the two are related, stating that the players had opted out due to COVID-19 related concerns.

On Wednesday, the Big-10 followed the Pac-12 players’ leads with a letter of their own in The Players’ Tribune entitled #BigTenUnited. Much like #WeAreUnited, the letter out of the Midwest calls for better safety precautions, improved testing and increased player assurances.

The three remaining Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big-12 and SEC — have not yet made announcements.

Contact Sam Levine at samplevine ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Sam Levine is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.