Student-athletes aren’t professionals, right? They are students first, then athletes, right?

That’s what they tell us at least.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency epidemic order this week, making all classes — high school and college — remote, shutting down indoor dining and barring organized sports except for professionals and a select number of NCAA sports. 

That part of the executive order is pretty telling — the select number of NCAA sports being exempted.

A tweet from senior Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds sums up feelings toward this development quite well:

The sentiment Reynolds expresses in the tweet is one that, well, checks out.

There’s a deadly pandemic ravaging the country. Yet as the daily case numbers in the United States are hitting a new peak seemingly every day, the players donning the maize and blue are still expected to go into work (sorry, I meant “participate in a fun, extracurricular activity”).

There’s risks associated with playing sports of any kind during these times. Just look at Georgia State quarterback Mikela Colasurdo, who was diagnosed with a heart condition linked to him catching COVID-19 back in August. This is the type of thing that these players are risking, not only every time they step on the field, but every time they enter the team facility.

We can understand why professional athletes are taking this risk. It’s their job. They’re getting paid.

But the student-athletes we are asking to take the same risks are students first. And they haven’t been able to use their name, image and likeness for monetary gain (though the Division I council is voting on this very issue in January 2021).

The NCAA tells us resoundingly, at every opportunity they are offered, that these students we watch play, who make universities a lot of money, are just students. 

Yet, as we have seen so many times, they don’t treat them like that. No, the NCAA treats these kids like professionals whenever it is to their benefit. They aren’t even hiding it anymore. 

You could say that these student-athletes want to play still, and that they want to continue their seasons. And I would agree. The majority of players seemingly want to continue playing and are happy that they are exempted from shutting down. Reynolds even echoes this in his tweet. But that doesn’t change the fact that a player can still want to play in the season while being exploited by the NCAA. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. 

The NCAA has always done this; they have always exploited athletes and pretended the kids that play under their banner are just students. And the COVID-19 pandemic has just magnified the issue tenfold. There’s no reasoning behind letting a select few college sports continue to play during this new lockdown other than the glaringly obvious financial benefit of the organizations and universities.

These student-athletes we are asking to take dangerous risks are more than just students at a university. They are closer to professionals.

Yet, they aren’t treated as professionals in all the ways that could possibly benefit them.

And that’s a problem.

Raines can be reached at or on twitter @Spencer__raines.

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