In the grand scheme of things, the loss of sports during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is relatively minor, especially when you’re talking about human lives lost, businesses closed forever and issues such as government overreach.
Just don’t tell that to Ed Orgeron, head coach of the reigning national champion LSU Tigers.
The 58-year-old coach made it abundantly clear Tuesday that he believes the return of sports, specifically football, is tantamount.
“We need football. We need to play. This state needs it. This country needs it,” Orgeron said at a roundtable discussion at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
One important figure who agreed with Orgeron? Mike Pence. The vice president was in attendance for that discussion and applauded Orgeron when he made those comments.
Orgeron did not mince words when it came to the importance he placed on football being played.
“I don’t think we can take this away from these players, take this away from our state and our country,” Orgeron said. “We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country.”
As far as the coronavirus was concerned, the coach insisted that it “can be handled.”
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Orgeron, in a move that doubled as a brilliant recruiting pitch, mentioned that quarterback Joe Burrow’s life changed immensely thanks to football.
“Last year, going into the season, Joe Burrow was a projected sixth-round draft choice,” Orgeron said. “He was the first player picked in the [NFL] draft and signed for $33 million.”
According to Spotrac, Burrow’s four-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals is actually worth over $36 million, and the average sixth-rounder makes about $32 million less than that.
“If he didn’t play last season, nobody would’ve ever known about Joe Burrow and we wouldn’t have won the championship,” Orgeron said. “I don’t think we can take this away from the players.”
Regardless of how you feel about football returning this year, at the NFL or NCAA level, it’s hard to argue against the point the coach is making when it comes to college athletes.
Most pro players have signed contracts for a good amount of money and will be fine financially even if there is no NFL season. If they don’t feel like playing because of safety and health concerns, so be it. It’s their call.
College is different. For university administrators, many of whom will make more money than most college athletes will ever dream of, to decide arbitrarily whether those players can compete for the opportunity to make a living? That’s just not right.
If a college athlete isn’t good enough to go pro — and most aren’t — he should still be allowed to try. Let the players succeed or fail on their own terms; don’t make the decision for them. And yes, as Orgeron mentioned, take the proper precautions to best mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
Somehow, that sensible mindset seems to be lacking when it comes to most of America’s response to COVID-19.
Let’s hope those making the decisions will heed the wise words of the gravelly-voiced coach in Baton Rouge.
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