Iowa State’s Addiction to Football Will End in Tragedy — But They Already Knew That

Johannes Cater/Wikimedia Commons

Green hills for thy throne,

And for crown a golden melody

Ringing in the hearts of all

Who bring thee love and loyalty;

Dear Alma Mater,

Make our spirits great,

True, and valiant

Like the bells of Iowa State.

Iowa State University of Science and Technology will have to lose the “Science” from its title in light of the disastrous (and ongoing) series of decisions that spit in the face of epidemiology this week as administrators knowingly continued the spread of deadly disease among the populous of Ames, making it the top COVID-19 hotspot in the most COVID-infected country in the world. In fact, they might want to lose the “University” too. The Lockheed Martin Center for Advanced Football Profits has a certain ring to it.

Jack Trice Stadium is named after the first African-American player at Iowa State. He died of injuries resulting from violent and likely racist attacks sustained during gameplay on October 6, 1923 and is memorialized by a statue outside of the front entrance to the stadium. It’s a tribute to a man who was not allowed to eat in the same dining room with his teammates on the day he was fatally assaulted; a man cleared by a doctor to travel back to Ames, having failed to diagnose the internal injuries from which he died on October 8, 1923. And no one was held ever responsible for his killing because the assault was in the form of a dangerous football play that was allowed at the time under the rules of the game.

Jack Trice’s killing has traditionally been portrayed as both accidental and inspirational. As Rob Wiese, the president of the Iowa State Government of the Student Body at the time the stadium was renamed for Trice, told The Undefeated, “Jack Trice represented what our school was all about. We learned he was a good student. He played hard as an athlete, and he paid the price by losing his life.”

As athletes prepare to play a game in the midst of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, Jack Trice’s memory is a warning.

ISU knows full well that students, fans, athletes, and the community-at-large — including people who actively despise football — are being sickened and could be killed as a result of their catastrophic decision-making. They do know. They don’t care.

Just like they know that students are being preyed upon by predatory lenders and that, as a result, the diploma that they receive from ISU (which comes at ever-increasing costs, driving them to predatory lenders in the first place) could be closer to a life-ender than a career-starter. They do know. They don’t care.

Just like they know that football is already a dangerous and even deadly game that kills and maims college and high school athletes all over the country every year. The ISU football stadium is even named for an athlete legally killed while playing football. They do know. They don’t care.

And, most of all, they know that they are profiting so handsomely from this inherently dangerous sport exactly because the product is being created by free labor, provided every year by the disproportionately Black student-athlete population of Iowa State (which ranks among the least racially diverse major universities). This same, extremely talented population will be thrown into harm’s way on September 12, on the front lines of a raging COVID-19 outbreak — a disease that has disproportionately affected communities of color — and in addition to the inherent health risks of football itself (risks that could possibly be justifiable if the workers were being compensated).

They do know. They don’t care.

And they don’t care because they are in too deep with football. They can’t afford to sacrifice profits. They would sooner sacrifice human Cyclone athletes and fans than the profits they create. Profits multiplied to tens of millions thanks to all the free labor.

None of this is news, none of this is a surprise. Putting unpaid athletes in harm’s way is exactly what ISU does every season, why stop now? The cash flow has become too delicious, plus it’s already tied up in the constant new constructions surrounding the football stadium that are designed to increase future profits. ISU must have that free labor. They must have the cash from broadcasts; and if they have to risk the lives of a few (or even a lot) of people to get it, they will — or rather, they are.

If you doubt the racist underpinnings of this line of thinking, just listen to the nation’s top cheerleader for college football’s return: White House senior supremacist Donald Trump. Or take a look at the right-wing extremists funded by ISU’s grinning donor class. Or consider the salaries of ISU’s top administrators and coaches in comparison to the $0 paid to the athletes doing all the work while risking life-altering injuries and even death — often doing so willingly, from an extraordinary commitment to competition and excellence, and with an abundance of talent, like Jack Trice.

ISU’s bizarre — and then quickly retracted — announcement of fan attendance earlier this week exposed the craven lust for cash, and disregard for human life, of our dear alma mater. In a flagrant affront against science (which should alienate a generation of scientists from even considering attending Iowa — excuse me, Lockheed — State), school administrators decided to dangle the prospect of mass death in front of the Ames community before being informed that, in fact, the Ames community would not prefer to be a site of mass death.

But it’s too late. Because Iowa State administrators have already made that decision for Ames. At every stage, ISU has made exactly the decisions one would make if one intended to precipitate an outbreak of COVID-19.

First, they announced that in-person classes would be taking place, in a state that has declined to fight COVID and in a city where bars and restaurants were open to the public and mask precautions were never consistently adopted. Epidemiologists warned that Ames was one of the likeliest outbreak locations.

Next, they moved students into the confined settings of dormitories and Greek housing, immediately finding that 66 students had brought COVID to Ames with them, which did not dissuade them from moving ahead with the pandemic management plan.

Then, in-person classes began and within a week the number of infections jumped to 141 new cases, right on schedule. Students had packed bars and house parties, which was in accordance with the plan and state law.

Inspired by the incredible lack of consequences for this outbreak, ISU then proceeded to announce that not only would football games be happening (itself already preposterous) but that 25,000 people would be allowed to attend, in an event that could have been ISU’s chance at a bowl game: the Super Spreader Bowl.

Finally, humiliated but not deterred, administrators announced that fans would not be attending. However, the game will continue — the athletes themselves will still potentially be exposed — and students will certainly continue to congregate at parties all over Ames and the spread will continue unabated, again according to plan.

What would be the right amount of death for ISU’s administrators? What kind of tallies are they trying to see before they consider changing course? Would twenty suffice? Would forty? And would all deaths be weighed equally? Would the death of ten non-athlete students be approximately equivalent to the death of one (profit-generating) athlete? Would the death of a beloved professor weigh more heavily on ISU’s conscience than the deaths of four janitors? Will the Ames community-at-large ever be considered? How many dead grandparents would be worth a weekend of broadcast revenue? These are the twisted calculations of dear old Iowa State, whose legacy of justifying death-by-football is written into its history and iconography.

And in fact, they’ve already answered these questions by initiating the series of events that has rained disease upon Ames and is ongoing as we write: There is no limit to the amount of sickness and death that could stop ISU from pursuing football profits at Jack Trice Stadium this fall.

We’ve learned for whom the Bells of Iowa State toll: They toll for thee.

Nate Logsdon is an alumnus of Iowa State.