Former Michigan softball player Alex Sobczak used to devote hours upon hours every week to practice, games, conditioning and team activities. The rest of her waking hours were spent working on her Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience degree to prepare her for medical school.

Since graduating in 2019, Sobczak has spent the past year researching topics in medicine at the University of Michigan’s hospital system and applying to medical schools. While she hasn’t finalized her decision, Sobczak’s research has already been valuable. She studies opioids and transplants, but more recently has conducted research on COVID-19. 

In doing so, Sobczak has garnered a wealth of knowledge about the virus. Despite what she now knows, for Sobczak, what she still doesn’t know is her primary reason for concern. Especially as it surrounds athletics.

“I think there’s just a lot of misconceptions about COVID-19 right now,” Sobczak said. “As a healthy 23-year old, I get that somebody my age isn’t going to be super concerned about getting a severe case of COVID-19, but in all honesty, nobody really knows the long-term effects of it.”

The mystery of the possible long-term effects, put simply, is quite worrying. And for anyone on the outside of a sport looking in, that’s why universities and conferences are so apprehensive to begin play — they don’t know what could happen to these players in the future after contracting the virus. 

Not only are they young, as Sobczak mentioned, but college athletes are in fantastic shape. The likelihood of an athlete having a severe case that lands them hospitalized is minimal, but the possible underlying after-effects, such as myocarditis and other unknowns, are concerning. In order to play, these risks must be minimized as much as possible. The decision to be made is how strict these restrictions and precautions need to be.

“I think you’re going to have to sacrifice on both ends,” Sobczak said. “ … You don’t want to put players’ health at risk. Especially not knowing the long term effects of COVID-19 and how it affects the organs. I would be concerned playing right now personally. I think it’s so hard to keep a bubble right now, especially on a college campus, and I guess it’s really up to weighing the sacrifices on both ends and what that looks like.”

With the near-impossible implementation of a bubble on a college campus, the preventative measures fall squarely on three things: masks, testing and staying within the team’s rudimentary bubble. And with cases on the rise as football, fall and winter sports start dates approach, those two elements become even more important.

Still, Sobczak understands the desire for athletes to play. She herself was a player, and she knows plenty of athletes on the softball team and elsewhere. Athletics is their escape. It is their way to cope with the stress, fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic. For many, it is a huge part of their life and of who they are. For some, it might even be their profession, such as Sobczak’s fiancé, Nick Plummer, an outfielder in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system.

“Being engaged to somebody who’s in baseball right now, I think it’s really hard to see that he can’t play his sport,” Sobczak said. “It’s devastating when you work your whole life for something and you don’t know when you’re going to get back to it and it’s an outlet for you. I think that’s been hard. It’s weighed on a lot of us. It weighed on me.”

Despite the difficulty, Sobczak is glad her fiancé is not playing. The health risks, to her, justify personal decisions not to play when protocol isn’t air tight, such as in the MLB and affiliate leagues as well as college campuses where a bubble is unlikely and the virus can spread rapidly.

In her eyes, to proceed, not only do you need multiple levels of precaution, but you need to be aware of the consequences.

As much as you love sports,” Sobczak said, “you have to watch out for people’s health and be concerned about the aftermath for something like this.”

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