Will Pac-12 players 'opt out' of games for safety, racial justice?

As the revised college football schedules get settled and commissioners attempt to put together a season, the voice of the player has been distinctly missing from the public dialogue.

That could change this week, as a seemingly ambitious effort from players within the Pac-12 appears to aim to help give them a voice.

A graphic obtained by Yahoo Sports on Saturday has been distributed among players in the league. “Our goal is to obtain a written contract with the Pac-12 that legally ensures we are offered the following protections and benefits.”

The graphic then lists the following:
*Ensure safe play during COVID-19
*Fight racial injustice
*Secure economic rights and fair compensation
*Protect all sports
*Obtain long-term health insurance

Pac-12 players' football unity notice.
Pac-12 players' football unity notice.

The graphic specifically targeted football players in the Pac-12 and promises a “public announcement” of what’s upcoming on Aug. 3. Whether or not anything materializes and what specifics the players end up asking for is a source of great wonderment around the league. The notion of players messaging each other has circulated throughout the Pac-12 for the past month, but coaches and school administrators have struggled to find details. (ESPN first reported on the effort on Saturday.)

The graphic says that the group of players “are unifying Pac-12 football players to opt-out of all Pac-12 fall camps & football games until our negotiations with the Pac-12 end.” The so-called negotiations have yet to begin, as the Pac-12 confirmed to Yahoo Sports on Saturday afternoon that they’d yet to hear from the group. The Pac-12 also said in a statement that none of the athletic departments in the league had heard from the group.

The size of the movement is unknown, and it’s also uncertain if it will include star players who can use their status to amplify the message. Yahoo Sports spoke to more than a dozen coaches, assistants and players in the Pac-12 the past 48 hours about the movement. The general consensus among that group was that the number of players wasn’t overwhelming and their objectives were unclear.

“As we have clearly stated with respect to our fall competition plans, we are, and always will be, directed by medical experts, with the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff always the first priority,” the Pac-12 said in a statement. “We have made it clear that any student-athlete who chooses not to return to competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected."

Multiple Pac-12 coaches contacted by Yahoo were aware of the potential of some type of movement gathering in the league. But throughout Friday and Saturday, they had more questions than specifics. One Pac-12 coach told Yahoo Sports on Saturday night that a player on his team assured him recently the movement wasn’t the treatment of the individual schools as much as was “the system” that the players aimed to change. 

Some pointed to a tweet from former Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter on July 17 that noted some movement was taking place. Carpenter is a private quarterback tutor based in Arizona with players scattered throughout the league.

Cal football has been one of the hubs of the movement, according to sources. The Twitter feed of Cal senior offensive tackle Jake Curhan matches the tenor of many in the movement (Curhan declined multiple calls from Yahoo Sports seeking comment on the matter). He tweeted out a Washington Post article on Saturday that told of SEC player concerns about the pandemic. He also recently retweeted a study from the National Collegiate Players Association that read: “The NCAA uses amateurism as an excuse to rob mostly Black athletes of $10 billion in generational wealth which flows instead to mostly white coaches, admins.”

Curhan also retweeted NFL player Tyrell Crosby saying that if the NCAA had the best interest of student-athletes, “there would be no season, or at least a delayed season.”

Curhan also retweeted a criticism of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott from former Pac-12 athlete George Wrighster, a former NFL player.

“Why does the Pac-12 have the highest paid commissioner by far, lowest revenue, lowest distribution of content (households), while spending 8-9x more on operations than any other conference.”

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