Amid COVID-19, UCLA Players Don’t Trust Coach Chip Kelly to ‘Act in Their Best Interest’

Jesse Pantuosco
June 19, 2020 - 5:41 pm

UCLA football players are slated to report for team workouts next week, but many are hesitant to return, fearing for their safety under head coach Chip Kelly. The coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a dark cloud over sports—13 players from the Texas Longhorns and another six from the University of Houston have tested positive for COVID-19, all in the past week. With that in mind, 30 players from UCLA including starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson have signed a document demanding a “third-party health official” be present for all football activities.

According to the document obtained by J. Brady McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, members of the team don’t trust Kelly (who is entering his third year atop the Bruins’ chain of command) to “act in their best interest,” claiming the school has “perpetually failed” in its efforts to protect student athletes. The players are also seeking immunity for whistleblowers, allowing them to speak up without fear of losing their scholarships. If these demands aren’t met, players who signed the document will collectively “refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.”

“We’re going to come to a point where a college player will literally have to die from COVID-19 for someone to understand what’s going on,” an anonymous player expressed. “I hope it doesn’t have to reach that point.” The school has made some concessions, refraining from having players share rooms during training camp to encourage social distancing, but apparently not enough to satisfy everyone. Players met virtually to voice their concerns Thursday before presenting the finished document to Kelly’s staff.

“Time and time again, we see individuals within [UCLA] Athletic programs who ought to defend and protect us leave us in the dark to fend for ourselves,” the document reads. “Starting with neglected and mismanaged injury cases, to a now mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic, our voices have been continuously muffled, and we will no longer stand for such blatant injustices.”

Kelly, who endured NFL coaching stints with the Eagles and 49ers before resurfacing at the college level in 2018, has had little success in his two years at UCLA, winning a combined seven games during that span. “We have people that grew up in a different community in America during a different time in America,” an anonymous player told the Los Angeles Times, alluding to the disconnect between Kelly and his players. “There’s no common ground, no meeting ground to where these two people can sit down and attempt to understand each other.”

Touted as an offensive prodigy during his time at Oregon, Kelly’s once-promising career has taken an unexpected detour. He was ousted after a forgettable three-year run in Philadelphia, then lasted a single season in San Francisco before the Niners handed him his walking papers. Losing the trust of his players this early in his UCLA tenure can’t be a good sign for the struggling coach.

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