The Let Them Play Movement

The+Let+Them+Play+Coalition+is+fighting+for+California+sports+to+reopen+with+appropriate+COVID+protocols+for+the+sake+of+student-athletes%E2%80%99+mental+health.

Art/Photo by Sullivan Kolakowski

The Let Them Play Coalition is fighting for California sports to reopen with appropriate COVID protocols for the sake of student-athletes’ mental health.

Sullivan Kolakowski, Staff Photographer

   At the start of the school year, student-athletes in California were told they would get to play in January. Then February. Now it’s become March for some sports. On January 25, 2021, California State Representative Laurie Davies and a few others (such as Thurston Smith, from the 33rd District) wrote an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom expressing concern for student-athletes’ mental health in light of sports being cancelled. She also suggested safety protocols schools could follow in order to reopen sports, explaining how the State of California has no adequate medical evidence to shutdown and postpone high school sports seasons. Davies wrote, “We must act quickly before we lose an entire generation of students.”

   The open letter and the Let Them Play Coalition have the same goal: to reopen sports seasons with appropriate COVID-19 guidelines in order to save student-athletes’ mental health. The coalition expressed concern, as “many [student-athletes] have no outlet to escape to or continue their physical exercises.” Caden Mitchell (10), a member of West High’s Varsity Wrestling team, explained how pandemic restrictions have altered his life as an athlete: “It’s something that used to be a part of our lives on the daily, and now it’s been cut out.”

   Sports played a major role in many high schoolers’ lives prior to the shutdown. “Baseball is a huge part of my life. Big time,” Jacob Hicks (11), a member of West’s Varsity Baseball team, said. “I can’t imagine my life without baseball. I’m really hoping we can play again.” Lots of athletes have struggled with the fact that they might not get to play this season. It has continued to take a toll on their mental health.

   According to Rep. Davies, what makes Let Them Play different from other proposals is that they “are simply trying to expand on what is already in [Governor Newsom’s] guidance.” The letter and the coalition both agree that safe and appropriate COVID-19 measures need to be in place for sports to return. Jordan Kong (11), who plays on West’s Girls Varsity Soccer team, agreed that her team “should all wear masks, practice social distancing, and try to limit contact.” Malia Conklin (12), a fierce outside for West’s Girls’ Volleyball team, had similar ideas. Conklin suggested, “Players will probably have to take their temperatures and check on their symptoms prior to playing. Everything would have to be sanitized.” In regard to spectators, Conklin predicted that there wouldn’t be spectators; instead, “it would be cool if they could broadcast or livestream the games.”

    That’s what professional and college sports have been doing. A lawsuit filed by San Diego athletes and coaches argued, “If a sport is safe for college students to play when following certain protocols, it is no less safe where high school student-athletes to follow those same protocols.”

    Many high schools in California are already following these protocols, as sports are allowed to practice conditioning. Chris Matsuoka (10), who plays on West’s baseball team, discussed what practice currently looks like: “We all have to wear masks and social distance, so no weightlifting or stuff like that. It is all outdoors.” At West’s women’s varsity soccer practice, Kong reported, “we’re social distancing and can only do individual drills.” Proponents of the Let Them Play movement argue that since college and professional sports are capable of following COVID-19 guidelines, so can high schoolers. Mitchell commented, “All I know is that a lot of students would definitely do whatever they can to be able to play the sport they love.”

    A common fear is that reopening sport seasons would directly lead to an increase in coronavirus cases. Sacramento doctor Ravinder Khaira explained how “teens and other individuals can easily become super spreaders and take it back to other family members who may be more at risk and susceptible.” The Let Them Play Coalition responded with studies that concluded, “Professional coaches, while following protocols, have created a safe environment for our state’s youth. These coaches follow local, county and state guidelines and collectively create environments where students and coaches work together with extremely low, COVID transmission with zero hospitalizations and zero deaths.”

   Let Them Play is a yard sign. A movement. A lawsuit. A letter. For many kids across California, the opportunity to play again is the light at the end of the tunnel. “Yes, COVID is a thing and it’s definitely something to watch out for; but if sports do follow regulations, then I do think we should be able to practice our sport,” Mitchell expressed. Matsuoska agreed, pointing out that, “as long as everyone follows the guidelines, I think it would be fun to play again.” Governor Newsom has not responded to Rep. Davies’ letter, but millions of Californians have. For Hicks and many others, “If there’s a chance athletes can play again, then we need to push for it.”