The Kansas City Star, Dec. 7

Elected officials at all levels need to start right now on working to convince the public that the COVID-19 vaccines we’ll soon be able to take are safe. They’ll have to help us put disinformation aside and see that the only way we’ll put this pandemic behind us is with as close as we can get to universal vaccination.

For a variety of reasons, that’s going to be a challenge: Anti-vax conspiracy theories have many believing all kinds of untrue tales about implanting chips and “marking us for elimination.”

These vaccines have already been tested on thousands of volunteers and have been found to be both highly effective and to have untroubling side effects — at worst, amounting to a couple of achy days.

In the Black community in particular, there’s no mystery about why there’s a legacy of mistrust of medical authority, even as COVID-19 is twice as likely to be fatal for Black and brown Americans.

And since many Republicans have been convinced that the disease is a “hoax” or has been overblown, why would any immunization against something that either doesn’t exist at all or is no big deal be necessary?

We’re glad to report that when it’s his turn to be vaccinated, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has agreed to get the first of his two doses publicly, on our weekly Star Opinion Live digital show.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has agreed to be vaccinated publicly, too, when it’s her turn, just as former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have said they’ll do.

“The sooner Kansans get vaccinated, the sooner our lives can return to normal,” Kelly said in a statement to The Star Editorial Board. “I know there are some Kansans concerned about the safety of the vaccine – I want to assure them that these vaccines have been tested on thousands of people and that scientists have been working towards coronavirus vaccines for nearly 20 years. COVID-19 is a coronavirus so much of the groundwork had been done. When it’s my turn, I will get vaccinated publicly to reinforce the safety and the importance of getting vaccinated.”

She did strike this note of caution, and rightly so: “Even with all of this good vaccine news, we are still likely on a six-month timetable before the majority of Kansans are vaccinated. In the meantime, we must continue to wear our face-coverings, physically distance, use proper hygiene, and use the free testing available through Keeping up these efforts will save lives, protect small businesses and keep our children in school where they belong.”

Republican Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also said through a spokesman that he’s committing both to getting the vaccine and to getting it publicly when it’s his turn.

Not surprisingly, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether our COVID-MIA governor will do either of those things. But those he’s sent mixed messages about whether to wear a “dang mask” might follow his lead if he did. It’s long past time to put politics aside on a public health disaster that should never have been politicized in the first place.

Ideally, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Royals catcher Salvador Perez will sign up, too, to do just as Elvis Presley did when he saved lives by getting his polio vaccine on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956, at a time when many young adults didn’t see why they needed to do that.

Every governor in the country is also going to have to stand up to the lobbying of special interests, donors and all of the others who are already arguing that they should get to cut the line for the COVID-19 vaccines that the states will be in charge of distributing in the coming months.

But it couldn’t be more important that they find a way to both hold off those who want to butt in line and encourage those who aren’t sure they want in line at all.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 3

Courts in Kansas are going above and beyond in dealing with challenges of COVID-19 as they aim to resume jury trials.

Officials are installing Plexiglas barriers, requiring masks and social distancing, and limiting the total number of people in courtrooms. Unfortunately, as a story by The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Titus Wu suggests, that still might not be enough.

Why not? Courthouses simply aren’t built for pandemics, and the right to a trial in front of a jury of one’s peers is sorely tested when those peers must obey a stringent and evolving list of safety requirements. Lawyers are concerned that masks cover their faces and make emotions difficult to convey. And those on trial, if they’re being held in jail or prison, may present virus risks of their own.

Meanwhile, the right to a speedy trial is stretched if court dates are simply delayed.

Frankly, Wu’s story does an outstanding job of painting a situation where there are no easy answers. You know that’s the case when some sources suggest moving trials outside to allow easier public access.

We all deserve an accessible and convenient court system. We have a right to it. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be expected to put our health at risk to access that system. Those accused of heinous crimes enjoy a presumption of innocence, after all. Surely those serving as jurors or witnesses should enjoy the presumption of basic health.

The basic question of “one’s peers” comes into play, too. If potential jurors are afraid to serve because of the virus, or if they’re in a high-risk group, it’s easy to imagine the pool of willing jurors shrinking. Before the pandemic, serving in a jury was too often seen as a burden or inconvenience. If it’s also a health hazard, who on Earth will be left to step up and serve for the cause of justice?

The unfortunate fact is, courts across Kansas may simply be forced to wait.

We applaud those who have taken safety and health seriously. If judges and attorneys believe trials can continue on a limited basis, they should be encouraged to do so. But the realities of our current crisis suggest that a full-scale return will require a vaccine and widespread immunity.

That’s going to take time, although hopefully less than we expected even a few months ago.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Dec. 6

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics last week released a new set of recommendations on how to clean up major college football. The commission stressed that leaders in college athletics were looking for bold solutions.

Here’s a bold idea: How about we start playing college football on this planet instead of in some alternate reality?

If you think college football is part of the real world, perhaps you didn’t see that the University of Alabama used its private jet to fly a COVID test to a lab so that its head coach could be on the sidelines of an October game against rival Georgia. That sounds about like how testing works for the rest of us, right?

The incident is a good analogy for how untethered the sport has become, but it doesn’t fully capture the danger. The most destructive aspect of big-time college football is it needlessly spends millions upon millions of dollars that universities desperately need to improve academics and the affordability of education.

Perhaps you guessed, but the Knight Commission’s bold recommendation didn’t tackle that issue. Instead, the commission’s recommendation calls for the NCAA to get out of the business of regulating big-time college football. The 130 schools that make up Division 1 football would be governed by a separate, self-governing entity.

The idea makes sense because the national championship for Division 1 football already is run by a separate entity; however, the NCAA is still responsible for player eligibility, rules enforcement and a host of other administrative issues. The NCAA covers those administrative costs, but doesn’t get paid to do so.

In that respect, the recommendation has an element of common sense. The group that generates the revenues ought to be responsible for the costs. While sensical, it is hardly bold. What would be bold is a spending cap for college athletic programs.

It is badly needed, and the Knight Commission has the data to prove it. Its report stated that from 2009 to 2018, the salaries of football coaches at the Power 5 schools have grown 93%. Total academic spending at those schools has grown 29%. What type of values statement is that?

Big-time college athletics is screwed up because it doesn’t keep score the way the rest of the world does. Think of this: Big-time CEOs are highly competitive people, just like coaches and athletic directors. But CEOs keep score with the bottom line. I’m better than you because my profit margin was 20% while yours was only 15%. Money isn’t used to keep score in college athletics, and thus it isn’t valued in the same way. It is just a means to an end that includes national championships and wins and losses recorded in a book.

Pro sports figured out this problem long ago, and most have salary caps. College athletics could create a similar system, except it would be an overall spending cap. Pro sports leagues make huge amounts of money, with the profits benefiting the owners. It would work the same in college athletics. Television contracts won’t get smaller with a spending cap. The profits simply would go to the academic sides of universities. A spending cap likely would take national legislation from Congress related to antitrust laws. That could be difficult, but it seems like that is one of the hallmarks of bold ideas.

So, no, this Knight recommendation isn’t bold. However, it may end up being fear-inducing at places like the University of Kansas. If big-time college football has to finally start paying all its costs, it may decided that the top tier of football really doesn’t need to be 130 schools. It may become pickier about who it lets into its club, based on what each school is bringing to the table. Bringing a basketball to a football table may finally catch up with KU. Probably not right away, though. The big-timers may want to let the dust settle before they tackle the political battle of carving off the hanger-ons.

Maybe in the interim, there will be some bold thinking in the world of higher education, and support for a spending cap can emerge in time. Don’t bet on it, though. College athletics isn’t about being bold. It is all about holding onto the gold.

Until that changes, college athletics will continue to be one of the most screwed-up value statements in America.