OPINION: After Free State’s mishap, all USD497 sports should halt


Owen Musser

Student sports have continued throughout the pandemic, despite rising cases in Douglas County.

By Nadia Sanburn, Co-Online Editor in Chief

Free State High School’s official football team Instagram account, @freestatefootball, on Sunday evening posted a picture of players standing in a large group, captioned #letthemplay. 

Despite being in a pandemic, the 29 students were standing near each other without a mask in sight. Even though the school year was postponed and the first six weeks will be online only over fears that cases will spike as KU reopens, student sports were allowed to continue without delay. This is dangerous and irresponsible. 

The comments were limited on the post, meaning only accounts of their choosing could comment. A few people decided to call out the account through the Instagram stories feature, which allows posts to be made or shared for 24 hours, deleting the sharer’s post afterwards. The picture was later deleted from the football team’s account but not before @freestatefootball commented in its defense:

“By the way, this was the one photo we took with our players with masks off. We are doing everything we can to be sure people are safe and so our players can play the game they’re passionate about. We don’t have them change in the locker room, but have them get dressed before practice. We have them wear masks. We will likely not have fans this year. To conclude, we are just trying to be safe and let our players play the game, with our safety precautions.” 

If they were doing everything they could to make sure their players were safe, they wouldn’t have taken a photo without proper face coverings and social distancing. It doesn’t matter if they had 24/7 mask use before posing for the photo, because in doing so, the 29 people in the photo were exposed to each other, and if just one person had COVID-19, whether asymptomatically or symptomatically, then it would put all players and their families in danger. 

Not to mention, an instagram post made by shows another picture where players are posing with no mask use or social distancing. So the statement claiming that “this was the one photo we took with our players with masks off” is false. 

The photo also appears to be a  violation of KSHAA guidelines. In the 2020 Football Considerations document, it clearly states to “always maintain social distancing guidelines while on the sideline, the practice field, and the field of play, when possible.” 

Restarting sports has been fraught with problems, leading the Big Ten and Pac-12 to postpone their seasons. On the high school level, other school districts — including those Lawrence schools routinely play — are taking stricter precautions. Among them, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools has cancelled all fall KSHAA sanctioned sports. Shawnee Mission isn’t suiting up just yet because of high rates of people testing positive for COVID-19. There is no reason why Douglas County and USD497 shouldn’t do the same at a time when Lawrence Memorial Hospital has 10 patients fighting COVID-19

It is understandably a frustrating time. Many people have had their plans and goals forever changed by the pandemic. And I understand the desire to claim a little bit of normalcy. But that does not mean we can pretend this pandemic isn’t our current reality. Lives are at stake, and believing a sport is more important than those lives is selfish. 

 In-person school was postponed, so in what way does allowing students to play sports have any logic? They cannot be trusted to have constant mask use, as shown by Free State’s team. USD 497 must condemn the actions that led to this photo and take steps to stop student sports in the district until it is safer to gather.