College athletes are not essential workers; why do we think we are?

By Faith Pitsikoulis
February 22, 2021

“Covid Memorial Project” by angela n. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It is okay, I can say that.  I am one.

Before I keep going, let me explain more about who I am.

I come from Downingtown, Pa., which is seeing COVID-19 cases decrease, but remains in the “very high risk” category (like everywhere else in this country).  I once failed chemistry, so science is not my strong suit. I just listen to CDC guidelines.  I am (was) the centerfielder for Cabrini’s softball team.  I grew up playing every single sport that I could.   I was the kid who was just good at whatever sport I was playing.  Well, unless you asked a boy.  Then, whatever sport I was better at was a stupid one.

I already know what is going to come out of this article.  You are going to question how much I actually enjoy playing softball, being with my friends, going to concerts and eating out at restaurants.  This is apparently what people my age cannot live without.

The simple answer is that I could go my entire life without ever seeing my friends again.  I am just being honest.  I love music, but I could go without the insanely loud venues and crowded stadiums.  Headphones in my room work just fine.  Takeout, takeout sounds amazing.  This all would fit someone’s narrative that I am enjoying being stuck in my house.  Any excuse to not do these things would be the highlight of my life right now – at least that is what I have been told.

I want to be clear…none of my teammates has said anything negative to me.  They have been the most supportive of my decision not to play this year.  However, I have been told by others that I do not want this virus to come to an end.

There is a reason why I did not just try to defend, or confirm if I want to play softball this season.  How many people can say that they have loved something that has made them feel like the luckiest person in the world?  This game does that to you.  I will not defend my need (or lack thereof) to play it for the same reason we become speechless whenever we are in love with something.  I have loved this game since I was 4 years old, and I have yet to find the words to describe how much I love it.  I am just not nearly a good enough writer.  I guess that is why I am an athlete first.  It is a part of who I am.  All that I have, I owe to this game.  Why have I chosen not to play it?

I have been told that I have to overcome my fear of contracting COVID.  I grew up with severe asthma.  I had pneumonia about four times and bronchitis a couple of times.  I remember going to King of Prussia with my mom and playing this breathing game on the computer where you had to blow down the whole brick house by filling your lungs and releasing for as long as you could.  It was as fun as it sounds.  I was put on a bunch of different medications as a kid and basically had to learn how to breathe again.  

I have not used an inhaler in years.  I do not even have one anymore.  Oddly enough, I think the last time I had pneumonia was this time last year.  Last February, I locked myself in my dorm room for a week.  I did not go to practice or class.  Everyone kept telling me to go to the doctor.  I had a fever and it was very hard to breathe.  It finally went away after about three weeks.  Since I have had pneumonia before, I knew what was wrong with me.  Some people are even convinced that I had COVID already.

I could care less if I get COVID.  I strongly feel I would make it, because most people my age are asymptomatic.  I am 20 years old.  I spent all of high school drinking protein shakes, lifting, doing HIIT workouts and counting my macros.  Even if I get it and do not make it, I am not afraid of dying.  I am just being honest.

“Florida National Guard” by The National Guard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I thought it was time to finally write down the real reason why I am not playing this season, or partying with my friends in their apartments.

For months now, all I have heard from college athletes is that adults should “let us play.”  I personally feel like we should all “let each other live.”  There are 469,583 people (at this moment) who have passed away from COVID.  There are parents who will never see their children grow up, kids who will never get to grow up, souls who have written pieces of themselves on the hearts of so many of us still here.

Major League Baseball players get rapid testing, well-ventilated facilities, private travel arrangements, trackers to keep athletes and their families in the same bubble for the whole season, mental health resources.  These college sports protocols are just not enough.  There will be testing…for a small group of players every couple of weeks.  We will travel out of our region.  We do not have to wear masks on the field, or in the dugout.  It is up to each player to be responsible off the field and stay in their own bubbles. 

I understand sports are helping a lot of people with their mental health and that is why I support professional athletes playing on television for the mental well-being of fans, because they have the resources to remain safe.  I am not neglecting mental health at all.  Also, I completely respect those who have decided to play.  It is their decision.  However, I have had a difficult time finding people who can respect my decision not to.

“File:Covid-19 San Salvatore 03.jpg” by Alberto Giuliani is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Fear of COVID is not the reason behind my decision, but guilt is.  Guilt is what hurts my mental health.  If we had worked together as a country in the beginning of this pandemic, we could have stayed inside, helped nurses, spent time with our loved ones and taken time to explore the little things that we take for granted too often.  Now, it is too late.  COVID has spread rapidly and torn so many families apart.  Americans just could not go a few months without spending money, drinking obnoxiously, traveling first class, being with their friends instead of their families, playing a bunch of games, damaging the environment and not following the law.

I have lost many things since COVID began.  I did not ask for this, but none of us did.  This has been a very long year for all of us.  There has been so much death.  We have allowed such horrific things to happen to one another as human beings, so I cannot bring myself to even think about playing a game right now.  All I can think about is sitting in my house and listening to the nurses who are crying out for help, because they have been crying out for months and still no one is listening.  The least I can do is wait to go outside and enjoy concerts, ballgames and hanging out with others when everyone is ready to do the same.

I know I am capable of doing this, because I am an athlete.  I do not take the easy way out.  I know that the only way out is through.  I do not let others distract me.  I do not shy away from painful things.  I do not complain about my circumstances, or what the score is.  I do what is right.  I play fair.  I do not play alone.  I believe in something so much bigger than myself.  I use failure as the key to success. I can lose hanging out with my friends, going to concerts and eating out.  I am taking this time to slow down and to grieve with other humans.  

“File:Covid-19 San Salvatore 09.jpg” by Alberto Giuliani is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

I will not go between those lines, because I feel like I will be crossing another one if I do; a line that this game has taught me will be there long after the other two that everyone else is so concerned about right now.  I cannot wait until things go back to normal.  Whatever “normal” looks like after this is finished.  For now, I am going to take some time to rest.  Rest is something that so many people would do anything to have right now.  There are so many nurses, single mothers and low-income families that desperately need some rest.

I just hope they find it soon.

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Faith Pitsikoulis

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