CSU athletes, staff say athletic administration covering up COVID-19 health threat
CSU football players and university athletic department staff say coaches have told players not to report COVID-19 symptoms, threatened players with reduced playing time if they quarantine and claim CSU is altering contact tracing reports to keep players practicing.
And they say those actions by the athletic administration is putting their health at risk in return for monetary gain the school would receive if fall sports are played.
Football players said they would like to play this season but don’t believe there should be a season given the spike in positive cases on the team in the past two weeks and the threat of more once Colorado State's full student body comes to campus later this month.
"I believe there is a cover-up going on at CSU,'' said a current football player who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. "But they could only cover it up so long and now that we have so many cases across athletics, they can’t cover it up anymore. It’s not about the health and safety of the players but about just trying to make money off the players.''
Said an athletic department staff member: "There are some red flags in the athletic department but the common denominator with this administration is to protect the coaches before the student-athletes and that makes them feel more like cattle than student-athletes.''
The player and staff member were two of 10 players and staff who contacted the Coloradoan in the past week regarding CSU’s handling of athletics and COVID-19. None wished to be identified for fear of retribution.
CSU athletic director Joe Parker said he is disappointed in the criticism but believes CSU has a solid COVID-19 plan in a time of uncertainty and fluidity.
"This (student-athlete) population is the most tested population there is here but obviously some feel that is not a good enough job to make them feel comfortable regarding their health,'' he said. "If that's the feeling, we will need to amp it up.''
Like universities across the country, CSU has in place guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state health department and NCAA for practice in an effort to have fall sports seasons. That includes testing, temperature checks, social distancing, mask requirements, quarantining and a host of other barriers to contain the spread of the virus.
Football players and staff acknowledged it is virtually impossible to strictly adhere to the COVID-19 policies because of the nature of the sport. Still, they feel pressured to practice and play.
"I think everybody could be doing a better job,'' the player said. "But for our coaches to tell players not to tell trainers if they have symptoms because we had so many guys out is wrong.''
COVID-19 numbers on the rise for student-athletes
Parker said if coaches have told players that, it is unacceptable and runs counter to everything the university is doing to avoid spreading the virus.
Players said a number of athletes from different sports attended a party around the Fourth of July holiday and that may have been a root cause of the surge in positive tests.
Parker agreed the incident appears to have spurred the increase. He said as difficult as it is for student-athletes to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures outside of practices, not abiding by those guidelines puts themselves and other players and staff at risk.
Parker said previously that there were no positive COVID-19 tests for athletes as of July 20. That number spiked to 16, including 11 football players, as of Sunday.
Players and staff confirmed there were 27 players, about a quarter of the team, missing due to COVID-19 at the last practice July 29 before the university voluntarily paused practices.
Monday, CSU tested 150 athletes. Results are expected on Wednesday or Thursday.
"Because we didn't have student-athletes with us over our football pause, I don't know what will we see when they return to campus,'' Parker said. "I hope the Fourth of July was a wake-up call.''
Katie O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Larimer County health department, confirmed CSU voluntarily shut down practices but said the department was keeping a close eye on the program before that due to the rising number of positive cases.
Players practiced with risk of COVID-19 exposure
Players and athletic staff said they believed the pause should have happened a week earlier but that coach Steve Addazio was adamant to get practices in.
CSU denied a request to interview Addazio.
Players said trainers stress adhering to safety guidelines during training but compliance is difficult. They said they are suppose to wear face coverings during conditioning and practice drills but the masks make it hard to breathe so many players take them down. The players and staff said that makes spread of the disease inevitable.
"We had a player who definitely had coronavirus symptoms coughing at practice and he wasn’t wearing a mask and I was next to him, touching him and there was spit and sweat,'' a player said. "I told him he needed to get tested but he really didn’t want to because then he would be out. The next day he is not at practice. (If he tested positive) he already had spread the virus. That’s why a lot of players don’t feel safe at football practice.''
Players and staff said Addazio, 61, and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, 67, rarely wear their masks. They said that is dangerous to themselves because of their age and also sets a bad example for the rest of the team.
Players and athletic staff also voiced concern over the reporting protocol, claiming quarantine procedures vary wildly and that coaches are coercing health administrators not to quarantine athletes so they can continue to practice.
Parker disputed that claim.
"There is no influence from our coaching staff on those kinds of decisions and those decisions are made outside of the athletic department and that is the way I want it,'' he said.
Coronavirus in Colorado:COVID-19 outbreak in CSU athletics impacts at least 17 student-athletes
Claims student-athletes from other sports may have been exposed to the virus
CSU’s athletic testing is done through UCHealth, which sends test results directly to the state and county health departments. However, all reports of possible exposure or symptoms and contact tracing is handled by the CSU Public Health Department, which through interviews determines if those involved should self-isolate or quarantine.
According to football players and staff, players have been exposed to other players with symptoms and who tested positive — and while some were quarantined, others were allowed to practice.
In another case, a source said four volleyball players had lunch together for about an hour at an arm’s length away without wearing masks. One tested positive for COVID-19. According to the source, the others received a short interview with Jeannine Riess, CSU public health administrator. The source said players said Reiss didn't ask if they had masks on but they still told her they had not worn masks.
The three were surprised that they weren’t quarantined given they admitted they did not follow CDC guidelines.
The source said Terry DeZeeuw, associate athletic director for Sports Performance and head athletic trainer, was asked if the volleyball report was available to read. He said no. When asked if the report stated the players admitted to not wearing masks, Dezeeuw said the players told the interviewer that they were wearing masks.
"What happens if we are not adhering to CDC regulations and letting some of these student-athletes practice then someone ends up on a breathing tube?'' an athletic staff member said. "How can we trust what is being reported when we see that some student-athletes should definitely be quarantined and they are not. That’s just damn wrong.''
Riess did not respond to an email and voicemail message as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.
O’Donnell said Larimer County Health works closely with CSU public health to help guide its decisions and will continue to assess the process.
Players told the Coloradoan they are concerned about not knowing who tested positive, believing the athletic department is trying to hide the information.
But Parker said HIPAA regulations do not allow CSU to divulge the names of those who test positive.
Players voicing similar concerns about COVID-19 health risks have surfaced at Virginia Tech, Washington State and throughout college football and is a part of the #WeAreUnited movement that has spurred discussions around racial and economic injustices in college football.
Parker said no CSU players have approached administration to opt out of playing this year but that he would listen to concerns. A CSU football player said he has heard of no player wanting to opt out.
With all the health risks involved with trying to play collegiate sports this fall, some believe the risk isn't worth the reward.
"At the end of the day, what we are trying to do to save the season is not a sustainable model,'' an athletic staff member said. "We can’t even get through practices. Then consider a season where you are traveling and hotels and buses and all standing on the sidelines next to each other. Think you can tell how that is going to go.''
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.