A thank you to Cal athletes

With the 2020 football season officially over, now is the perfect time to acknowledge the sacrifices made by Cal's athletes just to play a game.

Photo courtesy Section 925

The 2020 football season is mercifully over. The Bears were supposed to play a seven game schedule. Four of those games were cancelled, though one was replaced by a last-minute game against UCLA that was generally unhelpful to anybody but TV executives.

In short, this season was fatally compromised from the beginning. As soon as this country failed to control the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no way to conduct a season without facilitating spread of the virus that has already claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 Americans.

You may have heard that Boston College and Pitt, both bowl eligible, decided to pre-emptively decline any potential bowl invitations. Why? Because their players are done with the rigors brought on by the 2020 season:

Hafley said he met with the leadership council, which features one player from each position, and discussed their options. The consensus was that playing in a bowl game didn’t seem nearly as pressing as seeing their families, so Hafley spoke with Kraft and then the council one more time to come to a collective decision. Players drove the decision, and Hafley, Kraft. and Co. fully supported it.

Pitt’s football players did the exact same thing. After months upon months of self-isolation, they just wanted the season to end.

In some ways, what the players are going through isn’t that different from what many others are experiencing in their day to day lives. Plenty of us, whether by choice or government order or some combination of the two, have been spending all of our time either working or stuck at home with little else to do. Many have gone months without seeing their loved ones in person. If you’ve taken this pandemic seriously, you’ve made sacrifices that have made your life more challenging and less enjoyable.

But in other ways, players are being asked to make sacrifices that most others don’t have to make. Constant testing. Isolation from friends and family, when most other students had the option of remaining home. Living with the fear that if you get COVID, whether from a poor decision or just bad luck, your case could lead to a game cancellation and thus waste the sacrifices of your teammates. Instead of facing the challenge of distance learning from home with a support system nearby, players are in Berkeley at dorms or apartments. And in Cal’s particular case, whatever each player sacrifices was in vain, because the season quickly descended into a farce.

This post is obviously focused most of all on Cal’s football players, but applies just as much to every athlete on campus sacrificing so that their seasons can proceed. Men’s and women’s basketball still face months of trying to stay COVID free to keep their seasons alive. Other sports are waiting to see what kind of season they’ll get in winter and spring of 2021.

In the coming months, many players on the football roster will have a challenging decision to make. This year doesn’t count against their eligibility. But many will have been in Berkeley for four or five years. While they can return and play football for Cal, they might feel ready to move on to the NFL, or might be interested in a new challenge at a different university. There’s going to be all kinds of roster uncertainty as life returns to some semblance of normalcy. Anybody who persevered through this last season has earned nothing but appreciation from Cal fans, regardless of where they go next.

It’s always a good idea to step back and appreciate Cal athletes for the fun and entertainment we derive from all of their hard work. It’s essential this year most of all. If you have qualms about everything that happened this season, if you’re uneasy with how players are asked to sacrifice so much despite their amateur status . . . well, now is the perfect time to listen to what they have to say, and to support their push for more power within the sport that they make possible.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but with a vaccine on the way there’s reason to believe that we’ll be able to clap and cheer for Cal football in person in Memorial Stadium at some point next season. I’m hoping I get the chance to make a little bit of extra noise in appreciation next fall.