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Yodice: Governor was off base in wiping out all fall sports

St. Pius celebrates its state volleyball championship over Albuquerque Academy last November at the Santa Ana Star Center. The decision by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to establish public-health restrictions that make even noncontact high school sports impossible to play for now has created controversy. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal )

What is about to be said here will be wildly popular with some of you.

It will be extremely unpopular with others.

But no matter its divisive nature, here goes:

The governor got it wrong.

New Mexico’s high school athletes should have been given the green light by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to compete in volleyball, cross country and fall golf.

Certainly, to posit such a thing, especially as the state sees COVID-19 numbers skyrocket, will light an angry fuse with many of you. But these three non-contact sports could have been contested safely and with extremely minimal risk.

No one, least of all yours truly, has advocated, or is advocating, for an unsafe return to athletics. There is no suggestion that a return to prep sports be done haphazardly and without regard to everyone’s collective health.

The point of view here – admittedly, within a massive and tangled web of story threads, many of them more significant than this one – is these athletes should have been allowed the chance.

The safety protocols that had been established would lead any reasonable person to conclude that they could be executed.

The governor should have placed trust in the thousands of professionals within the educational realm to carry out their jobs and let these three sports compete. To add a twist to a popular phrase in sports, aren’t the educators on scholarship, too?

I’m not convinced that allowing these three sports to play would have placed an undue burden on schools or put athletes (or adult coaches and officials) in danger. I’m not convinced that staging these three sports would be a dire public health threat. With due sensitivity to the COVID numbers, which of course are a gravely serious matter, I’m not sure I see the correlation between that and these particular high school sports staging competitions.

The governor wants everyone in masks?

Well, one of the safety measures that was to be carried out would have had all athletes, coaches and officials wear masks during competitions. Is that not sufficient? In Texas, by comparison, roughly 10 percent of volleyball matches have had some COVID-related cancellations, with El Paso a particular hot spot. But many of those athletes are not in masks.

On Friday, I became aware of a story regarding a study from the University of Wisconsin. The first paragraph reads this way:

“A ground-breaking study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has found that ‘… participation in sports is not associated with increased risk of COVID-19 among Wisconsin high school student-athletes.'”

No, these three sports, on their own, won’t solve the larger crisis of kids who are dealing with the emotional and mental struggles of schooling at home, and it doesn’t address how the state can someday get kids back into actual classrooms.

It’s not meant to delve into either one of those things.

Look, any governor, including ours, has a nightmarish job description right now, navigating through a country-wide pandemic. Lujan Grisham is a public servant. And like any other profession, politics is run by human beings, and human beings, on occasion, err.

Some of you will accuse me of sporting a reckless, cavalier attitude about all of this. Truth is, a narrative as polarizing as this one is going to be met by equal amounts of praise and scorn. Which is to be expected.

It’s perfectly natural to want to raise a voice and be heard, as so many athletes have done with their peaceful protests in opposition to the governor in cities all over the state. They have fallen on deaf ears in Santa Fe, just as my words today will.

But I say, from this keyboard, Lujan Grisham has over-legislated this. And it needed to be said.

She made a mistake.

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