Big Ten Football’s Return: “No Way This Can Be Safely Done”

Northwestern University Preventative Medicine Vice Chair Mercedes Carnethon says the optics of the Big Ten’s return are “like a scene out of Gladiator.”

The game must go on.

That’s what university presidents across the Big Ten decided recently about their football seasons. Initially, the Big Ten schools voted against playing football in 2020. But in an unanimous vote, presidents of those schools changed their mind and agreed to a truncated eight-week, eight-game season beginning the weekend of October 24th.

“I didn’t see a way at all for this to be a safe endeavor.” — Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, Northwestern University’s department of preventive medicine.

Is this a good decision for the schools and for athletes? Or is it an example of universities putting finances before safety? 

Listen: Experts weigh in on Big Ten football’s return on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson


Rick Chryst is the former Commissioner of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and now consults Division One college athletic programs with the Dietz Sports firm, headquartered in Farmington Hills. He says, although finances are a factor in the Big Ten’s decision to resume the season, it’s not the only factor.

“To just say it’s about the money I think is a little bit lazy, honestly,” says Chryst on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson. “It’s definitely more nuanced, and when it comes to major college sports it really pulls back the curtain on the hybrid nature of the relationship with athletes.”

Dr. Mercedes Carnethon is the vice chair of Northwestern University’s department of preventive medicine and a professor of epidemiology and pulmonary and critical care. She’s also a former college athlete herself.

“I felt nothing but disappointment, I must say,” Carnethon says. “I’m a college football fan, I look forward to this time of year. But I thought there was no way this can be safely done.”

“We’ve decided that protecting the health of some of our students is a lower priority than all of our students,” she continues. 

Carnethon also comments on the racial implications of this move, noting that a majority of college football players are African American, as well as the history of experimenting on Black bodies against their will.

“The optics of this, I thought, reminded me of the scene from Gladiator when he says ‘Are you not entertained?'” she says.

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