Parents of Ohio State football players accept separation anxiety, want a season to happen

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State wide receiver Gee Scott Jr. answers questions during the football signing day news conference in February in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Scott, like all Buckeyes players, is unable to get visits from his family during the pandemic.

Gee Scott Sr. would love nothing more than to fly from Seattle to visit his son at Ohio State.

The original plan was to do that monthly as Gee Scott Jr. adapted to life as a freshman wide receiver for the Buckeyes.

Nothing in 2020, however, is as useless as an original plan. COVID-19 has changed almost everything.

“It’s hard, right?” Scott Sr. said. “This entire thing we’re going through with this global pandemic is hard.”

It certainly is for the parents of Ohio State’s football players. Whether they are in Ohio or thousands of miles away, as Scott is, these are anxious times to be a college football parent. Their sons had to train alone for months when the Woody Hayes Athletic Center had to close. They have endured strict protocols when workouts resumed and now that training camp has begun.

The Big Ten announced a conference-only schedule last week, but no one knows whether games will be played. These football parents have invested so much in their sons the youth leagues, the camps, the worry about injuries, the quest for scholarship offers, and the decision about which offer to accept. It can feel like everything is hanging by a thread.

“I’m not just speaking for my child,” Scott said. “I’m speaking for all parents and children all over the country whose lives have been impacted, who haven’t been able to go to graduations or their classes or whose college experience might be impacted. It brings a tear to my eyes that we are going through this. I never imagined that it’d be the summertime and I can’t see my son.”

But Scott knows that staying home is the only choice.

“I have to be responsible,” he said. “If I bring the COVID to my son and he transmits that to the team, that’s very selfish.”

The separation is difficult, but Scott and other parents of players interviewed for this story praised coach Ryan Day and Ohio State for keeping them informed and involved regarding the measures the school has taken to safeguard their sons.

Day and Ohio State’s staff have had numerous Zoom calls with parents, including several at the outbreak of the pandemic.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Raymond Banks, father of cornerback Sevyn Banks. “They’ve been keeping us in the loop about our kids and how they’re going to protect our kids.”

Stacy Wray, the mother of sophomore offensive lineman Max Wray, manages a staff of 10 in her job.

“I can’t even imagine the moving pieces that coach Day and the coaching staff have to figure out with a program that size,” Wray said, “and I think they’ve done an incredible job.

“I have total confidence in the decisions they’re making and how they’re staying on top of it. I’ve never had a moment of not trusting that they have everyone’s best interests at heart.”

Day said he is “constantly” having conversations with parents.

“Sometimes we don’t have the answers,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have great answers. But we take their feedback. There were parents of different people who were in quarantine who gave us some great feedback on how we can make it better. We made those changes.

“I think that’s very, very important. Obviously, communication at this time when you can’t bring everyone together is critical. For parents and their sons to be on the same page during this time is very, very important. I think right now we’re in a good place, but we’ve got to keep building on that.”

The football parents have a group Football Parents At Ohio State that formed six years ago out of the successful battle to get expanded travel stipends for parents going to the first College Football Playoff games. Many of their normal activities, such as tailgates, won’t happen this year.

But the group has served as a way for parents to stay connected, said president Amanda Babb, the stepmom of sophomore wide receiver Kamryn Babb.

“It’s been great,” she said. “I have a group chat with all my other board members, and then we have reps from each class. We have communicated so much this year just through text messages of everything that’s going on. It really helps because you might not hear the information from your son.”

As comforted as parents have been by Ohio State’s response, they must consider how safe it is for their sons to play football in the midst of a pandemic. All parents interviewed said they were supportive of it.

Cornerback Shaun Wade’s father, Randy, is comfortable with his son playing because young, otherwise healthy people tend to fend off the virus better than older people.

“I’m good with it,” he said. “I think it’s more of an issue for people who have underlying issues.”

The pledge by Ohio State players to take every precaution against contracting COVID-19 gives added comfort to parents.

“Let me be clear,” Gee Scott Sr. said. “My son is safer at The Ohio State University right now than he is here with me. He is with like-minded people every single day that all have one goal: to remain safe and play football.”

“Let’s get real,” Stacy Wray said. “It’s football. It’s a high-contact sport, so I’ve had to make peace with my kid playing football. Am I more concerned about my kid playing football during COVID versus not COVID? Not really.”

That’s not to say there’s no risk, as the parents understand. Scott said he lost a cousin to COVID-19. He knows the toll the pandemic has taken. That’s also why he’s supportive of football being played. The country’s psyche needs it, he believes.

“We all want good news in regards to the coronavirus,” he said. “Football will help with good news. Competition will help with good news. An opportunity to embrace competition with our favorite team, watching them play, that would be phenomenal for us.”

Players who don’t want to play, or fans who don’t want to watch, shouldn’t, he said.

“All I’m saying is that for me and my family, it’s all about what Gee Scott Jr. wants to do, and he wants to play football,” Scott said. “I think the one job as parents that we do is we try to support our children.”



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