Staff Editorial: Athletic department shutdown raises larger questions about the safety of competition

The University must provide transparency during a public health crisis

Staff Editorial: Athletic department shutdown raises larger questions about the safety of competition


Despite closing campus due to coronavirus concerns, American University’s athletic department made the decision to continue athletics in some capacity. The athletic department’s announcement of a shutdown on Feb. 5, however, indicates that the safety of athletes, staff and the surrounding community is likely threatened by the travel and the inevitable close contact in most sports. Despite this threat, communication remains scarce, and there is insufficient understanding of what safety measures are in place. The University has a responsibility to question its COVID-19 procedures for the athletic department during this shutdown brought on by an increase in cases. 

The Eagle Editorial Board wants to make clear that it does not speak for the athletes.

The most apparent issue that this shutdown brings up for discussion is transparency. Student athletes, whether they live on or off campus, have an impact on the people that live and work around them. If they live on campus, they interact with other students and staff. Those that live off campus come into contact with families, neighbors and anybody in the surrounding D.C. community. These people all have a stake in the COVID-19 safety procedures that athletes follow, arguably even moreso as athletes travel and interact with people from different schools. Still, the University’s athletic department has remained largely silent on what rules are in place for athletes beyond regular testing. 

The University has failed to outline the real benefits of endangering athletes, staff and anyone who comes in contact with them by allowing athletics to continue this semester. It’s important to note that COVID-19 spread within AU’s athletic programs impacts a broader community. AU, or even the Patriot League, does not have the infrastructure or resources of a national sports league to create a secure bubble, employ daily testing and enforce rigorous guidelines. When the professional leagues are experiencing outbreaks, how can college-level sports put various groups of people at risk by attempting to carry on with their seasons? Is this risk worth playing a handful of games that keep getting postponed?

Boston University is requiring basketball teams to wear masks while playing. The AU community needs to know if the administration and the athletic department has entertained that discussion. Still, if players have to go to the lengths of wearing a mask, or two according to CDC recommendations, should they be playing at all? The University has not offered up a valid reason to routinely expose athletes to the threat of illness. Even if sports do continue, the department must reevaluate its policies to protect the health of the community.

COVID-19 has resulted in endless lifestyle adjustments. AU students graduated college in their childhood homes, theatre majors put on capstone performances over Zoom, clubs and organizations were forced fully online these past months, and yet, the University continues to engage with in-person athletic events. Obviously, there is no way to hold basketball games online, but we have all adjusted for our own safety and for the sake of public health. Why are sports more worth it than any of these other areas? 

The 10-day shutdown imposed by AU’s athletic department is reflective of an administration that does not have enough control. The COVID-19 guidelines for athletes not only affect the athletes themselves, but also students and staff on campus and the surrounding D.C. community. AU needs to justify the continuation of athletics for the semester and provide a clear line of communication that helps people understand their risk of getting sick. If the University does not have the resources to make this work in a safe way, it must explain its next steps to AU athletes and the entire AU population.

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