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Northwestern players speak out as college football season teeters

Wildcats took to Twitter to express their opinions before a decision comes down.

With college football on the verge of cancelation, players around the nation have taken to social media so their voices can be heard before a plug is officially pulled.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 are expected to cancel or postpone their college football seasons Tuesday following a reported 12-2 Big Ten vote against playing a season this fall. Nebraska and Iowa were the two schools to vote in favor of a season, according to Dan Patrick.

As the hours tick down until the season is no longer, players are ushering in one final push to save the season — and have gone to notable lengths to do so. Late Sunday night, Power Five football players proposed a college football players association or a union-like group to advocate for players’ safety and proper treatment while still pushing for a season to be played.

In the past 24 hours, individual athletes from schools nationwide have used their platforms to speak their minds and demand the ability to play — or at least be given some tangible information amidst the chaos that has hit the college football world.

Among those players have been a number of Northwestern Wildcats who have clearly indicated they want to play and are ready to do so despite the risk.

Redshirt junior tight end Trey Pugh was one of the first to voice his opinions on the season in a public setting and wrote a lengthy message on Twitter to do so.

“At the end of the day, this all boils down to our lack of leadership from the NCAA,” Pugh wrote. “Our individual schools have implemented the necessary protocols to allow us to feel safe. Us players want to play, and out coaches want to coach, but the multitude of uncertainties that the NCAA has left everyone with has eliminated any uniform platform that justifies playing in the fall. There have been months and months leading up to this, but no preparation across the NCAA has been made. As a result, we’re all going to be disappointedly left without a fall season.”

A number of Pugh’s teammates and coaches supported his message like Jake Genyk, Tyler Gillikin, Eric Eshoo, Peter Snodgrass, TJ Green, Thomas Gordon and offensive line graduate assistant Sean Pearson, who all retweeted his message.

Pugh’s argument that the NCAA has put too much responsibility on individual conferences and schools is at the root of the problem and has led to the ensuing uncertainty and frustration among players, coaches and fans.

This uncertainty was echoed by TJ Green, who shared his own sentiments in a powerful tweet about the lack of communication from decision makers to teams.

Green’s 18 words epitomize the feeling college athletes nationwide have right now and have had for years — a lack of control. Their fate is ultimately decided by people in positions of power, yet they’ve been kept out of the loop, even though it’s their health and safety as well as mental health that’s on the line in these circumstances.

Aidan Smith, Jake Genyk, Wayne Dennis Jr., Greg Newsome II, Michael Jansey Jr., Charlie Kuhbander, Willy Boatman, Tyler Gillikin, Thomas Gordon, Erik Mueller and Sam Gerak all felt similar to Green on this matter and shared his post in solidarity as they await an official decision from the conference.

Wide receiver Riley Lees also expressed frustration by the uncertainty, especially in deciding whether the season should be delayed a few weeks, pushed to the spring or canceled altogether.

Redshirt first year DB/RB Coco Azema shared a powerful message of his own to remind his teammates, fans and fellow athletes that we have problems in America that are bigger than sports. Azema shared a video in which three Black teenagers were being attacked by a homeless man and witnesses called the police for help. Upon arrival, the police officers pointed their guns at the same teenagers who needed their assistance.

His response falls in line with those of many professional athletes who chose to forgo their seasons for social justice-related reasons. A number of WNBA and NBA players notably chose to sit out their respective seasons in an effort to focus on thee Black Lives Matter movement and other important social justice issues facing the US. Many who are playing chose to embolden messages of social justice on the backs of their jerseys during games. If college football is played, a number of its players could likely do the same.

Azema’s argument is extremely valid, as many grapple with the question of whether sports should matter or be played at all during a time of nationwide and worldwide crisis — both pandemic related and other.

Quarterback Aidan Smith’s response on Twitter was unique, as he retweeted The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman (the creator of the original Northwestern SBNation blog Sipping on Purple), who shared image of former NU QB Kain Colter with the caption “college football legend.”

Colter has become a prominent name in the college football discussion once again with the notion of a potential college football player’s union being brought back into the public sphere. In 2014, he led an attempt to unionize the Northwestern football team in hopes of improving compensation, health treatment and other facets of athlete life.

Additionally, Rashawn Slater and Peyton Ramsey — two anticipated stars on Northwestern’s roster this year — echoed the voices of other current and former college football stars in support of being heard and having a season.

Slater retweeted the below post from 2019 Heisman Trophy winner and former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

Ramsey also called attention to a thread from Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence about the benefits of playing college football this season and the potentially detrimental effects players and programs could face in the event of a cancelation.

Finally, a number of other players shared posts with the hashtags #WeWantToPlay or #LetUsPlay as subtle but powerful expressions of their position on the matter. Quarterback Andrew Marty, kicker Trey Finison, long snapper Tyler Gillikin (who quote tweeted former Wildcat receiver Bennett Skowronek’s message), offensive linemen Conrad Rowley, Dom D’Antonio and Zach Franks as well as newcomer Brendan Sullivan all shared the hashtag.

Wide receiver Wayne Dennis Jr. quote tweeted a report of the season being canceled with a broken heart emoji.

If you had any questions about it before, Northwestern’s players want to play. But to their misfortune, the decision is seemingly out of their hands as the Big Ten could put an end to everything in a matter of hours, and we could all be without Wildcat football until some point in 2021.