Report: UCLA players want independent medical official at all team activities due to distrust of injury handling

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Numerous UCLA players are reportedly pushing to have a third-party medical official present at all team activities because they don’t trust the way that coach Chip Kelly’s program has previously handled injuries.

Per the Los Angeles Times, 30 UCLA players got together Thursday night via video conference to finalize a document detailing their requests.

The document, reviewed by the Los Angeles Times late Thursday, asserts that players do not trust coach Chip Kelly’s program to act in their best interest, particularly in regard to their health, a realm where it says UCLA has “perpetually failed us,” citing “neglected and mismanaged injury cases.” The document does not provide examples.

The players demanded that a “third-party health official” be on hand for all football activities to see that protocols for COVID-19 prevention are being followed; that anonymous whistleblower protections are provided for athletes and staff to report violations; and that each player can make a decision about whether to come back to Westwood without fear of losing his scholarship or other retaliation.

Kelly is entering his third season as UCLA’s coach and, so far, has been publicly pragmatic about the return of football amid the coronavirus pandemic. He declined to offer a prediction on how the 2020 season would happen in April and instead said he would leave that decision up to the experts.

“I talked to [ESPN analyst] Lee Corso this week and his comment to me was, ‘The game of football is not more important than one person’s life.’ And I think he’s 100-percent correct and I agree with him 100 percent,” Kelly said in April.

You can view the letter from the players in full here. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is one of the players who put his name on the letter. He tweeted Friday afternoon after the letter became public to clarify that it wasn’t about specific distrust of Kelly.

UCLA players have been cleared to report back to campus for voluntary workouts on Monday. Players have returned to campuses across the country this month as the NCAA has allowed schools and conferences to open up their facilities for activities that aren’t supervised by coaches. Official preparations for the 2020 football season are expected to begin in July after the NCAA’s college football oversight committee approved plans on Thursday.

An unnamed player told the Times that “We put our lives at risk every single time we put on that helmet” and tried to put the coronavirus pandemic in perspective.

“Now, with this, what people don’t understand is, they say there’s a .1% chance of somebody dying, but last time I checked, that .1% has to be somebody. We’re going to come to a point where a college player will literally have to die from COVID-19 for someone to understand what’s going on. I hope it doesn’t have to reach that point.

The report noted that one football player was on a committee that met with the school’s task force designing fall sports procedures.

Kelly came to UCLA after ill-fated stints in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers following a stellar four-year run at Oregon where the Ducks won at least 10 games in each of his four seasons. UCLA was 3-9 in 2018 and improved by a game to 4-8 in 2019.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Head coach Chip Kelly of the UCLA Bruins looks on against USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, November 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Chip Kelly has been at UCLA for two seasons. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

No guarantee of scholarships?

An associate athletic director at UCLA told the Times that while the school would create a portal for tip requests, players’ scholarships would be guaranteed through their current term end of Oct. 1 and that the school could not guarantee a player’s aid after the 2020 season if that player chose not to participate in football activities because of the pandemic.

That’s not a stance that every school is taking. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in May that players unwilling to play in 2020 because of the coronavirus wouldn’t lose their scholarships.

UCLA players’ request of a third-party medical official at all activities is a reasonable one. It’s similar to concussion protocols that have been implemented across football as the significance of head injuries has come to the forefront over the past five years.

And it’s understandable that players would want to be confident that they’re not being rushed into playing football in the midst of a pandemic so that schools can keep revenue from television deals coming.

The document and the grassroots organizing is also another sign of how players are realizing and wielding the significant power they hold. College players have found their voices over the last weeks and months at Oklahoma State, Florida State and Texas, realizing that their words on social media can be used for greater good and systemic change.

Players across the country are testing positive

The players’ push for more protections also comes as players at numerous schools across the country are testing positive for the coronavirus upon their return to campus. Texas has 13 coronavirus cases among its football team and Houston shut down voluntary workouts on June 12 after six symptomatic players tested positive.

Kansas State said this week that eight people returning to campus had tested positive and schools like UCF, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn have had players test positive.

Testing frequency is also uneven across the country. Since tests aren’t cheap and athletic departments are not flush with cash thanks to decreased payouts from the NCAA and the possibility of significantly less football ticket revenue in the fall, testing procedures vary from school-to-school.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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