On Saturday, Washington State football player Kassidy Woods told head coach Nick Rolovich that he was opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Rolovich, per a recording of the phone call, had “nothing wrong with that.”
But he also had a question – about a group of Pac-12 players that, less than 24 hours later, would threaten to sit out the season if the conference did not meet their demands for health and safety protections, racial justice initiatives, and other benefits.
“Now, are you gonna be joining this Pac-12 football unity group?” Rolovich asked Woods.
“Yes sir, mhm,” the sophomore wide receiver responded without hesitation.
“K, so then that’s gonna be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff,” Rolovich said. “’Cause the COVID stuff is one thing. But joining this group is gonna put you on a — obviously you get to keep your scholarship this year. But it’s gonna be different. If you say, I’m opting out because of COVID and health and safety, I’m good. But this group is going to change how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school. So just think about that. If it’s about getting paid, and racial justice, and that stuff, then it’s probably — there’s two sides here.”
“ ... There’s one way we’ll handle it if it’s COVID-related, and then there’s one way we’ll handle it if it’s joining this group,” Rolovich later continued.
Woods recorded the conversation, and released it to multiple reporters Sunday night. Rolovich, throughout the five-minute call, repeated several times that he supported Woods opting out for health reasons. Woods has sickle cell trait, which could put him at increased risk of complications if he contracts the coronavirus. “We really don’t know much about the virus,” Woods told Rolovich. “So I feel like there’s not enough in place for me to be safe.”
Where the exchange opened up to multiple interpretations is when Rolovich asked Woods if he’d be traveling home to Texas, as opposed to staying at the university in Pullman, Washington.
“No, I’m not gonna go home,” Woods said. “I was still gonna do workouts and stuff. It was just, I don’t feel comfortable traveling and doing all that.”
Rolovich responded: “Yeah. But I don’t think you’re gonna be with the team this year, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think that’s a good look for everybody. You know, this guy’s still working out with us but he’s not playing. So, um, it sends too much of a mixed message moving forward.”
Woods then countered, respectfully: “If I may ask, how would it send a mixed message?”
“Because you’re really not playing this year for the team, you know what I mean?” Rolovich said. “And you have your reason and I’m fine with that. But I don’t think you being included in everything we’re doing is how we want to move forward. We kinda want to be one team. So, we’re having this locker space — trying to fight all those issues, so, um, it’ll be ... you’ll have to move your stuff out of the locker room, you know what I mean? And stuff like that, so. And it adds to another — the less people we can have around, the better chance we’ll have this season, I guess is what I’m saying. And if you’re not gonna play, then we’re gonna use the resources on the guys that are gonna play this year, that are limited to COVID.”
Whether Rolovich’s request that Woods clean out his locker, and his comment about “a mixed message,” are at all related to the Pac-12 player movement is unclear. Washington State has a blanket policy expected to be widely utilized around college sports: If a player opts out due to COVID concerns, that player — for safety reasons — cannot participate in team activities, and will not be allowed in the locker room or weight room.
The Woods family, however, saw a connection to Woods’ involvement in the player movement. (Woods is also an active member of the Black Student-Athlete Association at Washington State.) Kassidy’s father, John Woods, spoke with Yahoo Sports on Sunday night. His paraphrasing of Rolovich’s message was:
"The first part about your health, I get that. ... I support that. But if you gonna be a part of this movement, I don't want to get the wrong signals to my team, if you gonna be a part of that. [So] distance yourself with my team if you're gonna be a part of that group, that movement. I'm going to have to release you from the team, and distance yourself from the team. And you gonna be on scholarship, you gonna stay on scholarship, but for future reference, your future will be uncertain here at Washington State. So I'm gonna ask you to come [Monday] to clean out your locker."
Kassidy Woods did not return a call or text messages.
On Monday night, Washington State released the following statement from Rolovich:
“I spoke with Kassidy Woods in a private phone conversation last Saturday afternoon. This was before the #WeAreUnited group had released its letter of concerns. Kassidy informed me he was opting out of this season for health and safety concerns. I wanted to clarify with Kassidy that his decision was based on health and safety and reaffirm our policy related to COVID-19 and the assurance of his scholarship. Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athlete who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt our for health and safety reasons.”
Pac-12 schools have responded in a variety of ways to the players’ demands. Arizona State offensive lineman Cody Shear told Yahoo Sports that head coach Herm Edwards “was nothing but supportive” when Shear informed Edwards on Sunday morning that he was involved in the movement. But he said that some players around the conference were fearful or hesitant to attach themselves to it. When asked whether players at other schools had already received blowback, Shear said: “Ah, yeah. There's definitely mixed emotions on the topic.”
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