ROSEMONT, Illinois – By the time Randy Wade arrived in the suburbs of Chicago for the protest he organized to take place outside the Big Ten’s headquarters on Friday morning, he understood the reality that the conference had already made up its mind on not playing football this fall.
But that didn’t stop him – and several other parents of Ohio State football players, along with about a dozen parents of Iowa football players, one parent of a Wisconsin football player and a few parents of Illinois fall sports athletes – from gathering in Rosemont, Illinois at 8 a.m. Friday morning to make a statement and continue to express their displeasure with the Big Ten’s decision and more specifically, the lack of communication and transparency from the conference regarding that decision.
If it was up to Wade, the father of star Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, his son and players throughout the Big Ten would be playing football this fall despite the COVID-19 pandemic. But Friday’s protest, he said, wasn’t as much about trying to reverse the conference’s decision – a possibility that commissioner Kevin Warren formally ruled out in an open letter on Wednesday – as it was about making it clear that he and other parents of Big Ten fall sports athletes aren’t going to stop fighting for more answers until they get some.
“When we say ‘Let us play,’ we don’t necessarily mean play for the fall,” Wade said during his speech at Friday’s rally, just before starting a ‘Let us play’ chant. “When we say ‘Let us play,’ we mean show us transparency. When we say ‘Let us play,’ we mean communicate. When we say ‘Let us play,’ we mean our kids are important to us.”
Wade said Friday that he was calling for Warren to hold a Zoom meeting with the athletic directors and parents’ association leaders from all 14 schools, giving them the opportunity to ask him the questions he has not answered yet, like how the vote to postpone the season played out among the 14 schools’ presidents and chancellors and what the Big Ten’s plans are for a winter/spring football season.
No communication from the conference came on Friday; the rally was moved to a turf field in front of the Parkway Bank Park entertainment district just down the street after police prevented the demonstration from being held directly in front of the Big Ten headquarters, and no one from the conference – whose employees have mostly been working remotely due to the pandemic – acknowledged the protest as it was happening.
Wade said he’ll continue calling for more communication from the conference, though, and will even organize more protests if that’s what it takes.
“If we have to, we’ll make another statement,” Wade said after the rally. “Maybe I can put it on a weekend, maybe I can put it in a better location, and we’re going to make another statement. We’re going to keep pressing it until we get some more transparency.”
Randy Wade on how he thinks this mornings protest went. He also spoke to the crowd on hand for about nine minutes full video of that address to come. pic.twitter.com/vlF3ljoXNi— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 21, 2020
Other Ohio State parents who joined Wade in Rosemont on Friday included Mark and Kelly Farrell, the parents of tight end Luke Farrell; Jeny and Kyle Borland, the parents of linebacker Tuf Borland, who had just a short drive to Rosemont from Bolingbrook, Illinois; Andrea Tate, the mother of cornerback Sevyn Banks; and Candace Wilson, the mother of wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
Tate gave the most impassioned speech of any parent at Friday’s rally, as she called for the Big Ten to reinstate the fall season and trust the conference’s coaches to keep their players safe.
“We need a fall season,” Tate said. “We need answers. Give us options. Let these kids decide. Even if you say no fans can be in the stadium, let them play. Let them play. Trust the coaches. What else do you want? There’s no way you can’t tell us that the Big Ten can’t get it together, that the ACC can get it together, that the SEC can get it together.”
While Tate believes her son would be fine with playing back-to-back seasons in both the spring and fall next year, she said her concern is that postponing the season will only be a precursor to the season being canceled altogether.
“If you can pull a fall season, what makes spring so much safer?” Tate told reporters after her speech. “We have to live with COVID. It’s gonna be here now, it’s gonna be here in January. We have to learn to live with it. We’ve got to learn to play with it.”
Wilson, like Tate, praised Ryan Day and Ohio State for how well they have communicated with the parents of their players and the protocol they have put in place to keep the Buckeyes safe.
“Coach Day and his staff, medical and otherwise, have really, really been very open to us,” Wilson said in her speech. “They went down to, they had absolutely no COVID cases, because they wanted to play. … We just want to have some answers for the young men, because they’ve really done what they’ve asked, and now they’re just trying to understand what happened.”
Kyle Borland, like Wade, said he recognized that Friday’s rally was unlikely to lead to any change in the Big Ten’s decision, and he said he would be in support of a winter Big Ten season that starts in January, calling that “the best-case scenario that we could hope for at this point.” But he believes the Big Ten has an obligation to explain more clearly why it made the decision it did while Ohio State believes it had the protocols in place for its athletes to play safely, and so do the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, at least as of now.
“These kids have done everything they’ve been asked to do for months,” Borland told reporters. “Basically self-quarantined for months. They weighed the benefits versus the risk of playing the game that they love, and in his opinion, in our opinion as parents, the benefits outweighed the risk, and to have that pulled after the work they’ve put in for the last three months, without any more information, is sad for those kids.”
A total of seven parents of Big Ten athletes gave speeches during Friday’s rally; Wade, Tate and Wilson were joined by Jay Kallenberger, the father of Iowa offensive lineman Mark Kallenberger; Julie Waggoner, the mother of Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner; Dornaj Davis, the father of Wisconsin running back Julius Davis; and Noreen Murphy, the mother of Illinois women’s soccer player Eileen Murphy.
While there were only about 25-30 total parents present at Friday’s rally, as opposed to the 75-100 he had hoped would attend, Wade was appreciative of everyone who did show up, recognizing that many of them sacrificed a day of work in order to be there. And he appreciated that parents from numerous other Big Ten schools joined his cause, though he wasn’t surprised.
“Parents have the best interest for their kid in mind, period, point-blank,” Wade said. “The thing about it is … when you’re a parent, you’re a parent,” Wade said. “When you’re a true dad, you’re a true mom, you have some of the same feelings, and it’s just awesome to see them out there supporting.”
While many people would argue that the Big Ten actually made the smart decision by shutting down sports in the middle of a pandemic, and some people would argue that college football players shouldn’t need their parents to speak up for them, all the parents who made the trip to Rosemont on Friday were there for the same reason: They want to advocate for their children – as Wade noted, players themselves can’t always speak out as freely as their parents can – and they believe it’s important for their children to be able to play their sports again as soon as possible.
“If you heard everybody who got up there, some people had different opinions about playing in the fall or not, but everything else was a common issue,” Wade said. “So if we have a common issue, we need those issues to be addressed.”