The last few months have been an emotional roller coaster for the Georgia Southern football team. And just as a Sept. 12 season opener came into view, the Eagles were dealt another blow.
Word came down on Thursday afternoon that the team’s activities would be put on hold following what was described in a release by Georgia Southern Athletics as “a small number of players (testing) positive for the COVID-19 virus this week.” The news came as a blow to the Eagles, who have been adhering to strict public health guidelines since returning to campus in July and who have remained committed to playing out the 2020 season as no players have opted out of this fall to date.
Tensions immediately red-lined throughout Statesboro. The news of a possible COVID-19 outbreak is the lingering timebomb that everyone fears, with fellow Sun Belt Conference member Appalachian State having already halted its practices for a week and a September matchup between UL Monroe and Troy already shifted into December as virus issues in Monroe were making an opening weekend game tough to envision.
But Friday afternoon brought about an upswing on that roller coaster. While specifics of protocol and testing haven’t been made public, Georgia Southern reported that it was lifting the hiatus on practices - just over 24 hours after the initial pause.
However, the practice fields remained empty on Friday evening.
While the Eagles have seemingly dodged the brunt of a pandemic-related hurdle, Georgia Southern players and coaches made the decision to lean right into an ongoing social cause that has been gaining momentum throughout the sports world. Wednesday and Thursday both saw professional teams and leagues refusing to play, identifying with the latest instance of police-related violence and showing solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement.
A tweet by Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford on Friday afternoon stated, “We should never tolerate… Hate/Racism is Unacceptable! There is no debate … It’s truly about what is right!”
Georgia Southern Athletic Media Relations confirmed to the Herald on Friday evening that the team is scheduled to partake in a closed practice on Sunday, with a practice open to the general public slated for Tuesday afternoon.
It doesn’t take much thought to realize how much collegiate athletes have to endure. These are young men and women who have dedicated countless hours of training, practicing and playing just to earn the opportunity to play at this level. And once they make it to Georgia Southern - or any other institution - they are rewarded with 5 a.m. conditioning, even more intense competition, late night studying to complete full course loads and little of the social amenities enjoyed by most other college students.
That’s a lot to ask of anyone, regardless of athletic talent.
And yet, 2020 has demanded so much more. Student-athletes spent nearly four months totally cut off from physical contact with teammates and coaches. A return to campus brought about an entirely new list of demands to adhere to in order to stay safe from the national pandemic. And now these players are taking it upon themselves to use their notoriety and voice to shoulder the burden of another cause that has the attention of the entire nation.
I’m not sure how football season - or any other fall or winter sport - will pan out. Nobody is.
But Eagle fans can rest easy this weekend knowing that the athletes representing Georgia Southern are embodying everything that could be hoped for whether it be on-field excellence, personal accountability or being a pillar of the community and standing up for what is right.