JACKSON, MISS. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves described college football — even amid the coronavirus pandemic — as “essential” Tuesday, his comments echoing a tweet President Donald Trump posted the day before and coming the same day his Republican counterpart in Florida also pushed for games to be held this fall.
“What do opponents of football think, these kids will end up in a bubble without it? You can get COVID anywhere,” Reeves tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “There are forces who want to cancel everything to avoid risk at all societal costs. It’s foolish. We have to balance risk & costs.”
Two of college football's five power conferences, Big Ten and Pac-12, announced Tuesday that teams won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19. Reeves lamented that decision, saying that in Mississippi, officials have been working with big football schools including Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi to design a season that does not compromise the safety of players or fans.
“I personally believe that we can play college football," Reeves told a news conference. “I don’t think you can do it in a stadium with a hundred thousand people in it — that certainly doesn't make sense.”
Trump has adamantly said that he supports football seasons going forward as planned. On Monday, he tweeted, “Play College Football.”
Reeves said many players have been practicing for months over the summer and have built careers on football. Some have college scholarships riding on athletics. There is a way to let teams play while managing crowds, he said.
“There is risk in all of life. There are things we can do to manage it without destroying society,” he said. “Limit crowds and let ’em play!”
Conferences are not canceling football because of safety, he asserted. He said they are canceling football out of fear of lawsuits and “bad press.”
In addition, the Republican governor insisted that the number of new cases in Mississippi are going down. Weeks after Reeves began mandating masks in Mississippi counties, he said the state is “beginning to turn the corner” in the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is becoming more and more clear that masks work,” Reeves said.
The Health Department said Tuesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has had at least 68,293 reported cases and at least 1,944 deaths from COVID-19 as of Monday evening. That’s an increase of 644 confirmed cases and 33 deaths from numbers reported the day before.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.