Editor’s note: Mark Rose is the head football coach at Russell County High school. He has been a head coach for 23 years and has won 175 games. He is greatly concerned about the decision to allow high school football teams to play during the pandemic. One of his coaching staff was hospitalized with the virus and on a ventilator. Here is the article he wrote about this situation for The Opelika-Auburn News:
“Alabama high school coaches, players, and their families are the guinea pigs of the nation.
I played college football at Auburn for Pat Dye on three SEC championship teams that were known for toughness. I have concerns for the safety of high school football players, the coaches, personnel and their families. I have expressed my concerns regarding their safety to my former teammates, and they share my concerns.
My concerns have nothing to do with toughness. We are dealing with a deadly virus. Recently, a 33-year-old coach very close to me ended up in the ICU fighting for his life because of the virus. I know of other area coaches and parents who have been stricken by the virus.
Sending out players to the field with zero testing policies then sending them home to vulnerable parents and grandparents is unconscionable. Every NCAA program that cannot test every athlete, coach and any other personnel in the “inner bubble” has been shut down. Lack of testing – due to expense or other reasons – is the reason why the vast majority of colleges, including two Power 5 conferences, have canceled fall football or moved football to the spring.
Testing is very important because the notion of social distancing in a contact sport such as football is absurd.
I want to make this clear: this is not an indictment on our fellow high school coaches. So many agree but are threatened with their jobs or the right to feed their families even when we have offered non-contact plans to continue to develop our players and provide them 7-on-7s and combine film for a path to recruitment. The leadership at our state association says there is no penalty for not playing, but in reality coaches’ jobs could be threatened if the star player does not play because he might live in a household with those more vulnerable to the virus. All of the kids want to play, but our job is to protect them.
I believe that that the NFL and the NCAA have a chance to play. Both have mandatory testing policies in place. In Alabama, the policy has been to wait until someone gets real sick, then we go tell their parents to have them tested.
Football has been my life from the age of 7 to my 30th year in coaching at the age of 54. This policy, or lack thereof, is reckless, dangerous and could cost lives. It is well-documented that this disease disproportionately affects minorities. Many of the minority players come from multi-generational homes. I am forced to exclude players that have been sick or have vulnerable family members.
I will not remain silent when it is my responsibility to protect my coaches, players, personnel and their families.”