For the past few months, Kassidy Woods has contemplated whether to suit up for Washington State’s football team this fall as the coronavirus pandemic raged through his home state of Texas and much of the West Coast, where he’d be playing the majority of his games in the Pacific-12 Conference.
When Woods was a freshman, athletic trainers discovered he possessed the sickle cell trait — something that could cause complications if Woods was ever exposed to COVID-19.
The redshirt sophomore wide receiver maintains the Pac-12 hasn’t done enough to address health and safety concerns since inviting players back to campus for voluntary workouts, and worries he’ll be compromised when the Cougars travel to play games outside of Pullman.
“Because I do have sickle cell trait, and with this COVID it affects the respiratory system, so I just wasn’t comfortable playing at all,” Woods told The Spokesman-Review on Sunday. “And I haven’t heard any plans ensuring we’d be safe.”
Dozens of his peers around the conference have expressed many of the same concerns, and “health & safety protections” were at the crux of the player movement — titled “#WeAreUnited” — that was rolled out Sunday by a group of Pac-12 student-athletes threatening to boycott the fall season if the conference doesn’t meet a specific list of demands.
At least one WSU player, Woods, has already opted out, informing first-year Cougars coach Nick Rolovich on a phone call Saturday he wouldn’t be playing because of “concerns with my health.”
Woods, who serves as the social chair member for WSU’s Black Student-Athlete Association and represents the football team on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, also feels strongly about other positions taken by the Pac-12’s players’ group, including the fight to end racial injustice and the longstanding battle for student-athlete economic equity, either through compensation or name, image and likeness rights.
According to Woods, Rolovich was understanding of the player’s health predicament, but he claims the coach wasn’t as empathetic when it came to his desire to participate in the unity group — something Woods said Rolovich said could impact his status on the team in the future.
Woods shared graphics on Twitter on Sunday morning indicating he was in support of the group, as did WSU teammates Dallas Hobbs, Patrick Nunn, Lamonte McDougle and Syr Riley.
Of that group, at least one other player, Hobbs, has opted out, Woods told The Spokesman-Review on Sunday, and according to a report from USA Today, Nunn’s status on the team is uncertain at the moment. No players have actually been “cut” from the team, which would indicate the forfeiture of a scholarship.
When Rolovich asked Woods if he’d be joining the unity group, the player indicated he planned to. The coach, according to Woods’ paraphrased version of the conversation, explained, “That’s going to be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff, right?”
A source close to the situation assured Woods’ scholarship would not be revoked if he opted out of the season, but that WSU, mainly for health and liability reasons, wouldn’t allow him to participate in workouts and other football activities.
WSU declined to comment on the situation, but referred to a statement from the Pac-12 about the news release put out by the group.
Woods told The Spokesman-Review he’d been removed from a team group text message chat and was instructed to clean out his locker by Monday. The Cougars and other Pac-12 schools are permitted to begin the 20-hour-per week access period with coaches beginning this week.
“So you took all the actions to cut me,” Woods said. “That’s what happens when you cut somebody.”
It was understood by Woods his medical concerns wouldn’t jeopardize his future at WSU, even if he couldn’t be with the team this season, but Rolovich’s comments, according to Woods, indicated WSU would handle the situation one way if it’s “COVID related” and another way “if it’s joining the (unity) group.”
Paraphrasing the conversation, Woods claimed Rolovich said the unity group would “change how things go in the future for everybody … at least at our school. So just think about that.”
According to Woods, the coach also said if his players planned to fight issues of racial injustice, student-athlete compensation and other points raised by the unity group, “then there’s two sides here” and suggested that would be “at a different level moving forward.”
Woods said he expected to receive “backlash” for his decision to join the movement. McDougle indicated he was in support of the unity group, but later tweeted he wouldn’t allow it to compromise his participation in the upcoming football season.
“I agree with everything the movement is fighting especially the health concerns but not playing this season isn’t an option for me I got ppl that need to eat. so if the NCAA wants to use me as a lab rat it is what it is.”