Voluntary workouts are underway at Ohio State, and the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Buckeye brass had players sign a document acknowledging the school cannot insulate them from the coronavirus before those workouts began.
From the paper:
Referred to as a so-called Buckeye Pledge, it asks players to “pledge to take responsibility for my own health and help stop the spread of the COVID-19.”
The document goes on to warn athletes that “although the university is following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the CDC and other experts to reduce the spread of infection, I can never be completely shielded from all risk of illness caused by COVID-19 or other infections.”
Here is the form the student-athletes signed pic.twitter.com/0njsF1Ok4O
— billlandis25 (@BillLandis25) June 15, 2020
The form was originally reported to be a waiver — thereby implying that Ohio State wanted to protect itself from any legal risk if and when a Buckeye player does contract the virus. This was informed by the fact that incoming freshmen under the age of 18 had to have their parents sign the Buckeye Pledge.
However, Ohio State AD Gene Smith told ESPN’s Heather Dinich that Ohio State did not view it that way. Instead, he sees it as a mission statement that players will follow best practices when on- and off-campus to keep the virus at bay.
“We don’t look at that as a legal document,” Smith said. “It’s a Buckeye pledge. Allow us to help you so that if we face a situation, our trainers, our strength coaches, our coaches or any athletic administrator sees a student-athlete not wearing a mask or not social distancing, we can say, ‘Hey, you made a commitment. You signed a pledge. Your parents signed a pledge. Your parents are a part of this.’”
It’s currently a matter of debate as to whether documents such as would hold up in court as a shield to prevent schools from legal liability.
“Most waivers deal with injuries that are foreseeable in the sport or part of the game,” Mark Conrad, director of Fordham’s sports business program, told The Athletic. “That is not the case here. This is a public health issue. I don’t know. Depending on how they’d be phrased, I’m not sure how enforceable a waiver would be saying, ‘Hey, if you get COVID, you can’t sue us.’ I would have strong doubts about the enforceability of that, but it would have to be tested in court.”
As Tom Mars told ESPN: “The form … isn’t a waiver in any sense of the word. At most, it’s an acknowledgment of an intuitively obvious risk. From my perspective, I wouldn’t consider the form to have any legal significance.”
Ultimately, a definitive answer may not come until a case reaches the courts. Here’s hoping it never comes to that.