Analysis

Whitmer's Back-and-Forth on Football Raises Questions On The 'Science' She Cites

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's path to allowing high school football this fall brings into question her claims that the decisions are based on science and data.

Consider the timeline for the football decision.

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten, which includes the University of Michigan and Michigan State, announced they were postponing the fall football season until spring. This was supported by Whitmer, but a backlash against the decision sparked several teams to try a shortened season. The idea has not flown with Whitmer, reportedly painting her as the main "roadblock" to college football this year.

On Aug. 14, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced in a press release that football was being moved to the spring season.

“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a press release. “But while continuing to connect with the Governor’s office, state health department officials, our member schools’ personnel and the Council, there is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall.”

According to media reports, the MHSAA changed its mind and left the decision to start football in the fall up to Whitmer. More than 90 percent of the MHSAA’s revenue comes from ticket sales at District, Regional and Final MHSAA tournaments.

On Sept. 2, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked at a press conference about the MHSAA making it her decision on whether to reinstate football for the fall.

Whitmer said, “Listen, I think that there are leaders in various roles that are struggling to figure out what the right thing to do is. The science is incredibly important, that we stay focused on that, that we work together. I think that crises really reveal people’s true character, it’s been said, and I think we see that happening. And I’m going to continue to work with the association to ensure that steps that are taken are absolutely tethered to the best science and keep our athletes and their families and our educators safe.”

A day later on Sept. 3, Whitmer issued an executive order that allowed high school sports to commence in the fall, including football.

In the meantime, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services advised strongly against playing football.

“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” said Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun in a press release. “However, we know of 30 reported outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities in August. Based on current data, contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time. We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families.”

The MDHHS guidelines that were updated Sept. 3 state, "At the current juncture, the resumption of contact sports will create a risk of outbreaks among players and place coaches, family members and community members at increased risk."

As of Sept. 4, the MI Safe Start Map which indicates official risk levels of the spread of the epidemic in a region had not been updated since Aug. 14, the day the MHSAA announced football was moving to the spring.

Over past three weeks, Gov. Whitmer has had an executive order in place preventing soccer, volleyball and football for high school and youth athletes, supported the cancellation of college football and called into question the "character" of sports organizations. She then reversed her executive order and is allowing these sports to be played, but has her chief medical executive saying contact sports are unsafe. And at no time has the state released information about the science, data or trade-offs being considered, which might allow parents, citizens and the media to assess and evaluate whether the decisions are valid.