As a returning student at the University of Tennessee, I have experienced the unmatched feeling of singing “Rocky Top” at the top of your lungs as you watch your favorite Vols celebrate in the beautiful checkerboard end zone after scoring a touchdown. It is truly a surreal experience and is a key factor into what elevates our school into one of the best in the country.
However, this dream-like reality can quickly become a fantasy for incoming freshmen, returning students and the rest of Vol country due to our current battle with COVID-19, and that is disheartening to know that these individuals could be missing out on a large part of what makes our university and the city of Knoxville so appealing, considering the everlasting effect Tennessee football has put on my life and also those who have been under the Neyland lights. Therefore, I declare that it is pertinent that officials figure out a way to progress in this tough time, defy the odds and safely hold a sporting event with the presence of the best fans in the country.
In regards to Neyland Stadium, the fans' relentless cheering and eagerness to win has left a good impression on athletes who have stepped foot inside. Former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said the following about his time in Knoxville: “... that was probably the best game experience I've had and probably will ever have. That's a different type of loud.”
Because Mayfield has played in the majority of large venues throughout all of college football, this shows how much Tennessee football means to a Volunteer fan as they will literally give their all for the men out there grinding on the gridiron, and this represents the true passion this sport emits into our lives. To not have all of that come the fall would be absolutely crushing to the spirits of thousands of students on campus, and for that, this is why the SEC along with the university needs to do what is necessary to please everyone: to allow students to have the true college feel, to let the SEC continue to make money, let the players play and most importantly, keep COVID-19 under control simultaneously.
Daniel Kaplan, writer for the sports based company and website The Athletic, was one of the first to report that the NFL may require fans to sign a waiver that states that the organization along with the sports clubs are not responsible for someone contracting COVID-19 at a football game. Although proceeding with this action could still appear dangerous to some individuals due to the recent jump in cases, the NFL is giving the people the power to make the decision that they feel is appropriate, and this leniency extends to the players. With that being said, the NFL has allowed players to opt-out of the season due to concerns regarding the coronavirus; this allows players to keep their unalienable rights, therefore not forcing anyone into a situation where they are uncomfortable. The NFL wants to provide the same sense of comfort and safety to the people.
Additionally, as of July 22, the NFL went ahead and directly stated that masks would be mandatory if fans came to games. Ultimately, they have made two large and very influential advancements in getting closer to there being fans in the stands at football events. SEC discussions remain more private compared to those from the NFL, and for that, we have to assume they are following closely and actively thinking about additional safety methods to yield cleanliness and good health.
-- Doing temperature checks at all of the gates around the stadium prior to entry
-- Considering capacity limitations to easily follow social distancing guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control
-- Closing locations throughout Neyland that are not essential — concessions, apparel stands and bathrooms — to avoid unnecessary clusters of people
I believe that if the University of Tennessee, along with the rest of the SEC, follows these suggested guidelines, the transmission of the virus, along with the possible backlash from infected members, could be kept at an impressively low rate. Sooner than later, fans, coaches and athletes will be able to carefully share a stadium, and it could be the breakthrough we need to get sports back to the way they were.
Jaden Dupree is a sophomore majoring in sport management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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