Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver, on Monday poured out an impassioned criticism of the Big Ten Conference’s pending decision to not stage football games this fall.
Over the course of a 15-minute interview with USA TODAY Sports, Gonzalez, R-Ohio, used the words “enormous mistake,” “catastrophic,” and “disaster,” to describe the pending move, and he said he had made his feelings known “with those who would be making these decisions or have influence over them,” although he declined to provide specifics.
A first-term member of Congress, Gonzalez has not shied away from his football background or from being prominent on sports-related issues. He has been working toward introducing a bill concerning college athletes’ use of their name, image and likeness and he was chosen by President Donald Trump in April to serve on the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group.
He called the Big Ten’s potential decision “an enormous mistake for the kids.”
Anthony Gonzalez, now a first-term member of Congress, played for the Indianapolis Colts and Ohio State. (Photo: Luc Leclerc, USA TODAY Sports)
“I learned more in that college football environment than I did in any classroom or in any other environment that I've ever been in,” Gonzalez said, “and I know that I'm not alone in that. So, to take that opportunity away from these kids, many of whom come from some of the most difficult backgrounds that this country has to offer, I think is catastrophic for them. …
“The risk is obviously there. But I think that if you're in an environment where coaches want to coach, players want to play and parents of players want their kids to play that, at the very least, you need to create the option.”
Gonzalez said that no athletes should have been forced to play, and any athlete who opted out should have been given an additional season of eligibility.
But he questioned the degree of additional risk football players would have been accepting by going forward, and he raised questions about whether they will have reduced health-care monitoring if no games are played.
“The risk of playing to me and catching the virus doesn't appear to be different from the risk of being on campus and catching the virus,” Gonzalez said. “The world we're living in isn't a world where you're choosing between playing football with COVID risk and not playing football with no COVID risk."
If the season is set aside, he added: “Are the players going to get tested the same amount with games canceled as they would have if games and practices were being played? Probably not.
"And so the odds that you catch the virus (in infected players) go down significantly, whereas if you're being tested every day, every other day, whatever the protocol is, you're going to catch (players who get infected). You're going to be able to quarantine them. You're going to be able to get them the treatment they need. … You can test daily if you need to. You can do all the MRIs that you need to do to check the health of the heart.”
Gonzalez predicted that if schools stage games in the spring, “all of your top players and all of your seniors” would not play.
“It's hard for me to imagine that a player who's a top player would say, ‘OK, I'll play this spring football season that'll end in June or whatever, and then gear up for my first NFL training camps to start in July,’ ” Gonzalez said “There's just no way. Talk about unhealthy.”
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