To play or not to play: Warriors coach Mark Rose speaks out

To play or not to play: Warriors coach Mark Rose speaks out

Football is back! At least that is the case for some teams. As the Covid-19 pandemic has swept across the nation, it has affected every part of our lives. It is now turning the football world upside down, all the way from the NFL to high school football. The NFL will be playing, some with fans and some with no fans in attendance. Many colleges have cancelled or postponed their seasons until spring. Many states and school districts have done the same with high school football.

At every level, there are some that want to play football and some that think it’s just too dangerous at this time. Players, coaches, parents, and fans all have their opinions on what is best for their teams. What is best might differ from state to state and definitely differs at each level. Many states have cancelled or postponed the high school football season. The state of Alabama and the Alabama High School Athletic Association decided that it is safe to play. Some school districts in the state have still opted out of playing, which is the case for who was supposed to be tomorrow’s Week 2 opponent for the Russell County Warriors, Barbour County.

This will be the second game of the season that didn’t happen for Russell County, as they were also scheduled to play Smiths Station last Friday. Head Coach Mark Rose is one that doesn’t think these games should be played right now and gave his statement as to why.

“Alabama High School Coaches, Players, and their families are the guinea pigs of the nation. I played college football at Auburn for Pat Dye on 3 SEC championship teams that were known for toughness. I have concerns for the safety of high school football players, the coaches, personnel, and their families. I have expressed these concerns regarding their safety to my former teammates, and they share these concerns. This has nothing to do with toughness, as we are dealing with a deadly virus. Recently, a 33 year-old coach very close to me ended up in the ICU fighting for his life because of the virus. I also know of other area coaches and parents that have been stricken by the virus.”

Rose then went into the details of what is unsettling to himself and others.

“Sending out players to the field with zero testing policy, then sending them home to vulnerable parents and grandparents is unconscionable. Every NCAA program that cannot test every athlete, coach, and any other personnel in the “inner bubble” has been shut down. Lack of testing, due to expense or other reasons is the reason why the vast majority of colleges, including two Power 5 conferences, have canceled fall football or moved football to the spring. Testing is very important because the notion of social distancing in a contact sport such as football is absurd.”

While he is very firm in his beliefs, he doesn’t want to cast a shadow on his peers.

“I want to make this clear, this is not an indictment on our fellow high school coaches. So many agree, but are threatened with their jobs or the right to feed their families, even when we have offered non-contact plans to continue to develop our players and provide them 7-on-7 and combine film for a path to recruitment. The leadership at our state association says there is no penalty for not playing, but in reality, coaches’ jobs could be threatened if the star player does not play because he might live in a household with those more vulnerable to the virus. All of the kids want to play, but our job is to protect them! I believe that the NFL and the NCAA have a chance to play. Both have mandatory testing policies in place. In Alabama, the policy has been to wait until someone gets real sick, then we go tell their parents to have them tested. Football has been my life from the age of seven to my 30th year in coaching at the age of 54. This policy, or lack thereof, is reckless, dangerous, and could cost lives. It is well documented that this disease disproportionately affects minorities. Many of the minority players come from multi-generational homes and I am forced to exclude players that have sick or vulnerable family members.”

Finally, Rose feels his top priority is to protect his players and not put them in danger.

“I will not remain silent when it is my responsibility to protect my coaches, players, personnel, and their families.”

Russell County’s next scheduled game is Sept. 4 at Park Crossing in Montgomery. It’s hard to predict if there will be a full season of football, as conditions and circumstances with the pandemic can change from week to week. One thing that won’t change is this head coach’s conscience and his most important ideas of responsibility to his team and their loved ones.