Alabama had five football players test positive for coronavirus upon their return to campus earlier this month.
Clemson? Twenty-three, according to the athletic department.
LSU has quarantined 30 student-athletes according to their senior associate athletic trainer.
But if you’re curious how many Georgia Bulldogs tested positive following the team’s return to campus a couple of weeks ago, well, we can’t help you with that.
Claude Felton to @telegraphga: “We do not release testing (data). Internal decision.”— Brandon Sudge (@brandonsudge) June 22, 2020
To be clear, it’s not for lack of asking as beat writers covering the team have asked and even taken the step of filing Freedom of Information Act requests. The problem there is that the UGA athletic association is technically (and very intentionally) a private entity. And tests conducted by public health institutions are likely shielded under HIPAA and other privacy laws. Feel free to debate those legal aspects of this decision, and if you believe yourself to be some sort of FOIA ninja, by all means, hit me up with your strategy to liberate that data. But be aware it’s an uphill fight.
What I think is more significant is the fact that Georgia has taken the path of least resistance when other programs have proactively reported their numbers. Do I know that Clemson or Alabama’s case numbers are accurate? No. If I’m being totally honest, there’s a real chance those numbers are now higher. But I know from years as both a public relations professional and attorney that when you refuse to answer at all, the general assumption is that the answer would have been bad. That’s just how the human mind works. So don’t be surprised to see wild innuendo on social media about three-quarters of the UGA football team being stricken with a deadly virus. Nature and the Internet each abhor a vacuum.
There may in fact be legitimate legal reasons for not releasing a general, anonymized number of positive cases. And to be fair to the folks in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, there’s good reason to believe their position will be the rule rather than the exception across the college sports landscape. But the fact that other, similarly situated public universities in the South with elite football programs are releasing such case counts begs the question whether Georgia’s lawyers and administrators are just that much more cautious, or whether the administration is that much more secretive.
I’m not saying Georgia is required to disclose the number of UGA athletes who have tested positive. But I am saying that by choosing not to when UGA’s coevals have done so the administration should have every expectation that they’re about to be accused of a cover up, and will get hard questions about their measures to promote student-athlete safety, all against the backdrop of a nation which is less inclined than ever to take the word of those in power that they’re doing what’s necessary and are just going to have to be trusted.
I’m not saying the numbers we aren’t getting are bad news. But it absolutely is a bad look. Until later...