How Pac-12's #WeAreUnited came to be college football's #WeWantToPlay

Ryan Kostecka

On Sunday, Aug. 2, a leadership committee of players from the Pac-12 formed the #WeAreUnited movement. Their objective was to have their goals/demands met regarding this upcoming season.

And if not, they will opt out of any upcoming training camps and games unless the conference negotiates with them and reaches a legal agreement regarding health and safety practices, while also addressing issues of racial injustice and economic inequality. 

Those goals/demands consist of; 1.) Health and safety protections, 2.) Protection of all sports, 3.) End racial injustice in college sports and society, and 4.) Economic freedom and equality. The players want all of these demands for anybody wearing a college uniform, meaning for both scholarship and walk-on athletes.

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“We’re not your entertainment, we’re human beings,” Oregon safety Jevon Holland told SI. “Just like you would help your family, we want to help our mother, father, grandmother, everyone. We don’t know the long-term risks. We have no idea how it’s going to affect our body regardless if we show symptoms or not. I refuse to put my health at risk for somebody else’s benefit.”

But now with the college football season reportedly on the brink of being postponed, athletes from across the Power 5 conferences have joined forces to give themselves a voice in whatever happens next — with the goal of eventually forming a union. 

Multiple players from across the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, and ACC who wish to play this season shared a flyer on social media on Sunday calling for a universal health and safety standard to protect athletes during the coronavirus pandemic. But that's not their end goal, with it being to “ultimately create a college football players’ association.”

Among those leading the charge to play this season are Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell — all of whom are considered the top-three prospects in college football and surefire top-5 picks in next year's NFL draft.

“Moving forward, what we really want to be able to create is a legitimate voice for the athletes in these major conferences,” Cal offensive lineman Valentino Daltoso told Sports Illustrated on Sunday. Daltoso was one of the players who helped coordinate the Pac-12’s “#WeAreUnited” movement earlier this month.

In a series of tweets sent out Sunday evening, Lawrence talked about how college football players want to play, and how playing could actually keep them safer rather than having nothing to work towards.

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According to Daltoso, within days after the Pac-12 players formed their 18-person leadership committee, they began speaking with players from other conferences. This sparked players from the Big Ten to form their own committee, adding the conference needs to include player input before making their own proposal. 

Communication among college football players was already occurring at a national level when the “We Want To Play” hashtag began populating social media Sunday, seemingly as a response to players who were threatening to opt out. Daltoso said players from across all Power 5 conferences took part in multiple calls over the weekend and realized they were on the same page. The final push came from a Zoom call Sunday night with a couple representatives from each conference.

“Something we were stressing from the start is we want to play,” Daltoso said of the Pac-12 group. “People were trying to put this divide between us. We’re all in this together. We’re unified across the Power 5. Everybody in this moment can come together right now and say we need uniform health and safety guidelines if we’re going to move forward with this season.”

The #WeAreUnited group former to make the #WeWantToPlay initiative because both groups felt that fans and commenters were unfairly pitting the #WeWantToPlay group against the original #WeAreUnited squad.

So players from both factions organized a ZOOM call on Sunday evening that included not just athletes from all five Power 5 conferences, but from some of the most talented and recognizable names in the nation. Those names include; Lawrence; Sewell; Fields; Alabama running back Najee Harris; Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard; Oregon's Johnny Johnson III, Jevon Holland and Kayvon Thibodeaux; Utah's Nick Ford; Washington State's Dallas Hobbs; and Michigan's Hunter Reynolds.

Hobbs' inclusion was special as he was the one who created the graphic that spread through social media like wildfire...

As of Monday and according to some, college football among the Power 5 conferences is coming down to the the Big Ten/Pac-12 vs. the ACC/Big-12/SEC.

“It’s gotten to a critical stage,” one conference commissioner told Sports Illustrated Sunday, after a conference call between the heads of the Power 5 conferences. “I think all of us will be meeting with our boards in the coming days. We have work to do that is no fun.”

The SEC is doing everything it can to not cancel and wants to play football this fall — the Big-12 and ACC are sitting back and seeing how this all plays out — the Pac-12 is still in the midst of deciding but leaning towards cancelling — the Big Ten is done.

Only time will tell is there is a season to be played this fall, but as fo right now it's not looking too promising.

"In the next 72 hours college football is going to come to a complete stop,” one industry source told Sports Illustrated.

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Twitter — @UtahUtes_SI and Ryan Kostecka at @Ryan_Kostecka