UCLA players demand third-party oversight for health, safety administration

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The UCLA Bruins have come together to demand their health and safety is protected as they approach a return to campus, workouts and eventually practice.

In a document obtained by ESPN and first reported by the Los Angeles Times, 30 current players and one former player signed a document asking that third-party health officials are put in charge of overseeing and enforcing health and safety guidelines and that the guidelines are clearly and publicly stated.

The players are also asking for whistleblower protections provided for athletes and staff who want to report violations of any guidelines, as well as the ability to make decisions in regard to personal health without consequences in terms of loss of scholarship or retaliation from coaches in any form.

As players are scheduled to return to campus July 6, the document states that they will likely be put into situations where practicing social distancing could deteriorate and the events should be attended within the discretion of student-athletes.

“Furthermore, should an athlete choose to attend these events, we demand that third-party health officials, tasked with enforcing COVID-19 regulations and identifying breaches in conduct, be present at all team activities and events in order to mitigate detrimental consequences placed on students by the possible future mishandling and neglect of COVID-19 cases.”

According to a source, a majority of the leaders on the team met virtually over video conferencing to discuss the demands, but not all players were present on the call.

The athletes go on to demand that the health officials have no affiliation with the university or football program and are asking for full transparency because of past alleged transgressions. Stating that the result of precedents set by former and current athletics staffs, the players will no longer leave the topic of their health and safety in the hands “of those who have perpetually failed us.”

In addition to the third-party health officials, the players are seeking a space or platform where the athletes and staff can directly express with concerns about violations of safety standards in an anonymous fashion.

The student-athletes close the letter by stating that if their demands are not met, they will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football related promotional activities.

“The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student athletes, on the frontlines of a battle what we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision.”

UCLA has set up an anonymous hotline and a web link where players can share any concerns about their return during the pandemic, including naming coaches or other staff who aren’t following protocols, a source said.

Athletes face no scholarship losses or other penalties if they choose not to participate this fall, according to the source. Athletes were repeatedly informed about their voluntary participation on Zoom calls this week. Also, UCLA’s faculty athletics representative Michael Teitell, a renowned immunologist and pathologist, is expected to be around the football program often during its return to competition.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly and incoming athletic director Martin Jarmond are set to meet with players Friday over Zoom at 3 p.m. PT.

UCLA only got approval on Monday for athletes to return to campus, and began conducting Zoom meetings with athletes on Tuesday.

Information from ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg was used in this report.

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