Patrick Nunn isn’t sure he’d be able to live with himself if the Washington State defensive back didn’t do everything in his power to inspire change in what he and many of his Pac-12 Conference peers believe is a broken NCAA system.
“I don’t think I’d be able to go to sleep at night with peace knowing I didn’t try to do something,” Nunn said. “It’s about being silent, and sometimes silence is betrayal. Some of us just have the moral obligation to try and get through.”
That’s why Nunn elected to do something that has become increasingly popular among Pac-12 football players – and admittedly unpopular in other circles – by formally opting out of the 2020 college football season, assuming there still is one this fall.
Nunn, who played mostly as a nickel back for the Cougars last season and would’ve competed for a starting position after making two starts in 2019, becomes the second WSU player to formally opt out, joining wide receiver Kassidy Woods, who’s also a redshirt sophomore.
Woods’ decision was largely centered around health concerns, and how exposure to COVID-19 could cause respiratory complications for someone who was diagnosed with the sickle cell trait as a freshman.
Health and safety factored into Nunn’s decision, but the Bay Area native also referenced the other points raised by an alliance of Pac-12 football players that has asked the conference to revisit issues of health/safety protection, racial injustice and economic freedom/equity.
“My decision of opting out is because of everything that’s going on that we mentioned,” said Nunn, referencing a Sunday press release from the Pac-12’s “We are United” group. “I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m doing this for the future of the NCAA as well.”
Nunn said he informed WSU head coach Nick Rolovich of his decision to opt out on Sunday. According to Nunn’s account of the conversation, Rolovich suggested he wait to make a decision until there was more clarity on whether there’d be a season.
“He just wanted us to wait before coming out on anything, doing anything, because he feels like there’s not going to be a season anyway,” Nunn said. “That’s what he told me.”
Along the same lines of what Rolovich told Woods when the wide receiver formally opted out, the coach, according to Nunn, said “opting out because of health and opting out because of the movement is two different things.”
Woods recorded his phone call with Rolovich and an audio clip obtained by the S-R, and other outlets, revealed the coach telling the receiver, “If you say, ‘I’m opting out because of COVID and health and safety,’ I’m good, but this group is going to change, I guess, how things go in the future for everybody. At least at our school. So just think about that.”
Rolovich also told Woods: “If it’s about getting paid and dot, dot, dot, fight racial injustice and that stuff, then there’s two sides here. I’m good with sickle cell and the COVID, but this group is going to be at a different level as far as how we’re going to kind of move forward in the future, I think.”
Monday night, WSU released a statement from the coach in which Rolovich regretted that his words were “construed as opposition.” The coach also said, “I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about.”
Nunn was instructed to clear out his locker and was initially removed from the team’s group text message chat, although he said a WSU coach – not Rolovich – eventually added him back to the chat. Nunn hasn’t communicated with WSU coaches since Sunday and plans to return to the Bay Area indefinitely after tying up a few loose ends in Pullman.
He’ll eventually reassess his long-term future at WSU, but Nunn insists for now he’s concentrated on “what we’re trying to get accomplished with this movement.”
Nunn, who’s athletic and well-built at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, showed the ability to play multiple positions in WSU’s defensive backfield last season, starting games at both nickel and strong safety, and could’ve been a valuable piece for Jake Dickert’s defense in 2020. Nunn is also a graduate of San Mateo’s Serra High, a Bay Area prep powerhouse that has produced dozens of professional athletes, including Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and Lynn Swann, as well as Easop Winston Jr., the former WSU receiver who’s now with the Los Angeles Rams.
During the 2018 season, Nunn and his older brother, Leki, a former San Jose State wide receiver, were the subjects of an S-R feature two days before the Cougars played the Spartans at Martin Stadium. Their mother, Sinipata, worked multiple jobs to afford her sons’ tuition at Serra, and it wasn’t uncommon for the family to bounce from motel to motel, with the boys occasionally sleeping on the floor.
Like many of his teammates, Nunn has ambitions of playing in the NFL, but he hopes his decision to boycott won’t be misconstrued as him having less to lose – something that could also be reaffirmed by the hardships and financial hurdles his family went through while he was in high school.
While opt-out discussions haven’t necessarily caused division among WSU players, Nunn said “people are really showing where they stand.
“Because we’re all going through this, so people are just really showing where they stand on right and wrong,” Nunn said. “But it’s something I’m doing, even if they don’t see it right now. I’m doing this because they’re scared of the consequences. It’s not they come from different homes, or they have more to lose, we’ve all got the same amount of things to lose if we don’t make it to the (NFL).”
Since Nunn, Woods and one other WSU teammate, Dallas Hobbs, pledged support for the movement, the three have been somewhat ostracized by other teammates, Nunn indicated. Nunn, Woods and Hobbs have been in constant communication since Sunday, though, trading messages of support.
“It’s hard to feel like we’re wanted by the team,” Nunn said. “But just being there for each other is just something big. … We don’t really feel support from anybody. The support really comes from within ourselves, whether we know we’re doing the right thing or not. I don’t really pay attention to what my teammates think, because they’re worried about their own type of future, whatever that may be.
“I’m trying to do this for the future of Cougs that come through here, that have a chance to play college football. That’s who I really do this for.”
The wide-ranging list of demands made by the Pac-12 unity group includes COVID-19 health protections and the preservation of all existing sports by eliminating excessive expenditures. Racial injustice and economic freedom/equity were other issues raised by the group in a Players Tribune article published Sunday.
Asked if he felt the NCAA and Pac-12 were valuing money over the health and wellness of athletes, Nunn responded unequivocally, “100%, yeah.”
Nunn believes many of his teammates are supportive of the movement – a handful have spoken up on social media – but may be reluctant to go all-in, fearing the fallout or ramifications of a boycott.
“Other players just don’t want their opportunity to go away,” he said.
“But what we’re doing, it affects us whether it’s in a positive or mutual way, it affects all of us in a way. So it’s better to try to work for change than stay the way the system has been going the whole time, in my opinion.”
Most WSU players have refrained from commenting publicly on the recent events that enveloped the Cougars’ football program, but a key member and captain of Rolovich’s defense, Jahad Woods, backed the first-year coach in a Twitter post Tuesday.
“People trying to force a negative on Rolo is really wild to me,” Woods wrote. “To any up and coming recruiting class don’t listen to the media, or anyone outside of this team, they don’t know (expletive).”
Jahad Woods also showed a vote of support for Kassidy Woods and his plight, tweeting, “Put some respect on Kass name too. Y’all watch our games and follow us on twitter but the fact of the matter is, most of y’all have never been student-athletes. So if you don’t understand where bro is coming from, your opinion isn’t even relevant!!”