Downplaying coronavirus threat, Trump pushes for college football

It's Trump's motivation that rankles: he apparently wants these student athletes to take unnecessary risks to advance his interests, not theirs.
Image: The Michigan Wolverines kick off against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor in 2015.
The Michigan Wolverines kick off against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor in 2015.Christian Petersen / Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

Given the public-health circumstances, it's not too surprising to see a variety of NCAA conferences canceling their college football seasons. There's no great mystery here: there is no system in place to keep the students, the coaches, and the referees safe.

Donald Trump doesn't seem to care. "I think football's making a tragic mistake," the president told Fox Sports Radio this morning. He added, "It's brilliant football. It's great football. It's the atmosphere, there's nothing like it. And you can't have empty seats."

And what about the viral threats? Trump is convinced everyone involved will be fine -- and they should all just take his word for it.

"The (virus) attacks old people very viciously. These football players are very young, strong people, physically," Trump said. "I mean, they're physically in extraordinary shape. So, they're not going to have a problem (with the virus). You're not going to see people -- could there be, could it happen? But I doubt it. You're not going to see people dying. And many people get it and they have ... like kids they get it they have the sniffles. Young kids, almost none have a serious problem with it."

Part of the problem, of course, is that the president's understanding of the relevant scientific evidence is ridiculous. He assumes that young people, especially athletic young people, are "virtually immune" from COVID-19. They're not. As we discussed last week, minors can get infected, transmit the disease to others, and some children have died from the virus.

There are also an unfortunate number of instances in which young adults, including "strong" athletes, also died after contracting the coronavirus.

Just as problematic is his obsessive efforts to downplay the seriousness of the threat. As the U.S. death toll continues to climb -- it was over 164,000 Americans as of this morning -- it's tough to defend a president willing to equate the virus with "the sniffles."

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump's motivation is arguably the most offensive element of all, because he apparently wants these student athletes to take unnecessary risks to advance his interests, not theirs.

As Election Day draws closer, the president desperately wants to see a return to normalcy, and he knows that much of the public will notice college football's absence. It'll make it that much more difficult for Trump to convince voters that everything is now fine.

But if the president wanted to ensure the return of college sports, maybe he shouldn't have squandered the last several months.

Postscript: Trump added this morning that if student athletes take a knee to protest systemic racism, then he doesn't want college football to return. The man clearly has his priorities, even if they only make sense to him.