IU alums know the tough spot COVID putting players in

When Dimitric Camiel waded through a nearly impossible question, it was about a week ago — before the “#WeWantToPlay” movement was building on Twitter.

The former Hoosier offensive tackle, now a security operations specialist for Bank of America, was asked if he was still that 6-foot-7, 310-pound offensive tackle for Indiana, weighing the risks and rewards of playing football during a pandemic, how would he sort through it all. And would he play?

There were a myriad of ways to speculate, about the proper degree of testing, about whether eligibility should be preserved, about whether he would feel comfortable being on a college campus with 40,000 near-strangers and a novel virus. Camiel has the benefit of a few extra years now, having played his last down in 2016. But he also remembers what it was like suiting up in IU’s locker room, a few years younger, believing he was invincible.

He can’t imagine being put in that situation today.

“There is not a clear message across the board, projected across the United States, about what are we going to do (about COVID-19),” Camiel said last Wednesday. “We are now putting the reflective and perspective on the 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old young men to say ‘Are you going to play?’ When you have all this stuff going on, that adults running this country still do not have a grip on?”

A few star athletes started to answer that question for themselves last week. In the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Penn State’s Micah Parsons, and Purdue’s Rondale Moore all decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. The conversation has since shifted to whether conferences can stomach football seasons at all, with athletes pushing back on social media, saying they want to play.

If IU alums like Camiel, Victor Adeyanju, Delroy Baker, Herana-Daze Jones, and Greg Heban can all agree, it’s that student-athletes are in a tough spot. How can they know, for sure, what their level of risk might be, when new information is coming out daily about infection rates and possible aftereffects of COVID-19? How can they weigh it against the risk of other injuries, like an ACL tear or an ankle sprain, when this is a virus that spreads to others?

At the same time, they all know what it’s like to be on a team, with dozens of teammates relying on them. They know the work football players put in, and the risk of injury they already live with — or shove to the back of their mind.

They remember what it’s like to be young, living and breathing football. All five of them said, if they were back in college today, they probably would have played. They wouldn’t have opted-out, especially in the later stages of their careers. But being just a few years older, having more perspective, they believe the onus is more on the leaders of college sports than the athletes to find a consensus.

At the end of the day, players are going to want to play.

“You watch boxing? You know how your corner throws in the towel, and the boxer is mad at the corner?” said Jones, once a 190-pound, in-the-box safety for the Hoosiers. “But it’s the corner’s job to protect them from themselves, and it’s the coach’s job to protect you from yourself.”

The players should be heard, Jones believes. If there is a season, they should have the final say on whether they, individually, suit up. But they shouldn’t be the final word on whether there is a season, in Jones’ opinion. Not when their health is at risk.

Jones, for one, remembers sitting out a game against Penn State with a pinched nerve in his left arm. Larry Johnson ran wild. The next week, with Purdue coming up, coaches asked Jones if he was ready to play.

He wasn’t. But he said he was.

He played versus Purdue.

“Guys are not going to weigh that risk right now, as 21-year-olds,” Jones said. “We are thinking about the short-term. We are thinking about making the NFL.”

Adeyanju, who played with Jones, then went on to play a few years with the Rams, looks to the pro ranks for a COVID-19 blueprint. Just look at what the NBA has been able to do with its bubble. If colleges are testing enough, and case numbers are low enough in certain states, Adeyanju doesn’t see why football can’t be played.

Just look at the data, said Adeyanju, who now works for Microsoft. But at the same time, he knows the 21-year-old version of himself wouldn’t have paid attention to COVID case totals. Different pressures would have been at work as he considered what to do.

“I’m not going to lie. I would look toward the leadership of the team, the coaches, the medical staff, and my parents,” Adeyanju said. “I know my mom would probably tell me not to play. I think that’s what you also have to consider as a young adult. You have a lot of people that are giving you their opinions.

“I understand all the aspects of it and I have empathy. I understand this is a very hard decision for people. If people don’t want to do it, you have to respect it.”

At his alma mater, there is an example of the possible dangers of COVID, beyond just the risk of death. Brady Feeney, a freshman offensive lineman, was infected with the virus and has been held out of fall camp because of concerns about a possible aftereffect with his heart. A recent study from JAMA Cardiology found COVID-19 infection may have lasting impacts on heart health.

Whether an athlete knows someone who has suffered through an illness, specifically COVID-19, may alter their perspective. Camiel, a native of Houston, Tex., knows a former coworker who died of the disease. He also imagines, as a former lineman, what kind of effect the virus might have on someone like him during a season.

“You are not able to get up and move and physically interact and run and open up your lungs and train,” Camiel said. “You are putting yourself at more of a risk of injury if you jump back out there.”

“There’s so many what ifs,” Camiel added. “It’s a very challenging decision we are putting on young men, and it’s almost sad we’re doing this. It’s not like they are professional athletes. If I get sick and lose 30 pounds, is my scholarship going to get taken? What’s going to happen?”

The “what ifs” of a season, if it were to happen at all, would just be another mental stressor on student-athletes. Delroy Baker, the program’s Mental Attitude Award winner in 2018, figures most athletes would be conditioned to be responsible, because they wouldn’t want to be the reason their team couldn’t play. There is positive social pressure there.

At the same time, it’s impossible that all of the thousands of students on IU’s campus will be just as responsible. It’s also hard to believe all of the 100-plus athletes on a football team would follow social-distancing rules to the letter. A feeling of invincibility is “the crux of youth,” as Baker put it.

“There is always that guy that comes to the workout and makes everyone else run. It is what it is. It is the reality,” Baker said. “It comes down to what they’re doing. Are they having their mask on? Can we put our best foot forward?”

This season, if played, would be the ultimate test of team unity.

“You have to hold yourself to a standard,” Heban, the former safety, said. “If you have a team off the field, on the field, that holds itself accountable, you got a helluva team.”

If reports of a postponed Big Ten season are true, IU’s athletes will have to be resilient in other ways. The alums know how hard football players work for a season.

To have it taken away, it would be devastating.

Of course, players want to play. It’s just a question of whether they should, and opinions may differ.

Camiel, whose feeling of invincibility was altered by back injuries, would have to think long and hard about playing sports during a pandemic. Jones, who played through a concussion or two at IU, is seriously thinking about whether his sons should play tackle football, if the pandemic is still in progress. Heban, personally, is out playing intramural sports nonstop — flag football, volleyball, kickball, and basketball.

As long as everyone is being cautious, Heban is fine playing.

Adeyanju, who has been wearing masks since before they were mandated, still wants to believe that games can be played, safely. But with the benefit of his years, he remembers there is always risk in life.

“Realistically, every time you step outside, that could be our last day. We don’t really think about it. But this is life,” Adeyanju said. “As they say, the show must go on.”

4 comments

  1. PERSPECTIVE:
    Whether there are sports or not or anything else for that matter….I just want rioting, looting and intimidation, violence to stop period.

    With all due respect referring to the challenges of today including this virus and everything else going on…how do these sacrifices and tough spots that pro athletes, owners and related individuals (pro sports is worse on society than this virus itself) claim to be compared to those who…fought in the American revolution, Indian Wars and The Trail of Tears, Close Combat and Disease and all things related to the Civil War, suffering of WWI and living in a fox hole, the Great Depression, WWII and storming the beaches of Normandy, Korea, Vietnam on both sides, and Wars, and etc etc etc.
    Then, referring to the college athletes, coaches, programs and colleges how tough are the spots they are put in compared to the above comparisons? I guess there is no comparison. PERSPECTIVE

  2. They’ve lost all perspective, t. And those in sports media and the talking heads on ESPN and sports radio offer nothing of perspective because it exists in its own tone deaf and very segmented “bubble” world fighting tooth and nail to save their own “essential” jobs and “imperative” asses.
    I would be doing the same…I suppose.

    15 years of ghost classes at UNC…15 years of a pedophile at Penn State….Doctor Deviate at MSU…?
    Name as many sickos and wackos as you choose who put sports ahead of integrity and human decency. In many cases they use the power of sports as a curtain to hide behind and further their deviant and corrupt acts. Perspective has been gone long before this virus. Most of the degenerates are acting just as expected to act. No shocker here. Deny and excuse…and wiggle just as they always have.
    And let’s all cry what a Joke the NCAA has left amateur sports. Did the NCAA create the pedophile at Penn State? Did the NCAA order a doctor at MSU to sexually abuse gymnasts? Did the NCAA hand the loophole to UNC to cheat a young mind out of an honest education via a suggestion of enrolling throwaway brains in ghost classes?

    The NCAA may be a joke….but many of the leaders at Prima Donna Wherever U. need to be taking some hard looks in the mirror. When have many of these universities truly cared about the well-being of anyone? They have allowed criminals and deviants to hide behind their “imperative” sports programs. Now I’m supposed to believe they’re motivated by their wholesome hearts in ensuring the happiness and health of young athletes? You couldn’t protect children in showers or female gymnasts from a sick molester when there was no national crisis. You allowed athletes to obtain official college transcripts at your programs while perpetuating a “ghost class” system where many finished their illustrious amateur sports careers with nothing higher than a 4th grade reading level.
    Now you expect me to believe you will focus on more than a dollar sign when there is a national health crisis? It almost appears the virus found the virus…..They’ll get along very well.

  3. Most organizations no matter what they are, tend to lose perspective once they reach a certain size. I have seen it in HS sports as some winning coaches practice players for several hours more than most teams along with film study until 11 pm on school nights. It just isn’t reasonable nor necessary to have a winning program. Now move that up to NCAA football/basketball with the pressures of alum and benefactors; it is easy to see why weak or unscrupulous coaches and staff get away with egregious behaviors. Step out of the athletic world and we see the same thing in politics, business, education, etc.

    Sociopaths exist in all societies and many are glib enough to get by for years to achieve high status in their field. I don’t know painting certain human activities is really dealing with the real issue of why we don’t recognize sociopaths before they can harm others.

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