By Scott McClallen
“Let Them Play Michigan,” a group of roughly 40,000 people, filed a lawsuit against Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Director Elizabeth Hertel, Lansing attorney Peter Ruddell said in a morning Zoom press conference.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Jan. 22 that high school winter sports such as wrestling, basketball, and competitive cheerleading would be prohibited to restart until Feb. 21. The previous deadline set was Jan. 31.
The lawsuit argues the extension betrayed kids, many of whom worked for years to finish high school sports strong to get recruited by colleges and dodge six-figures of student loan debt via scholarships.
Parents and kids showed their dismay on Saturday when roughly 2,000 people gathered at the Lansing Capitol to support their cause.
The lawsuit, filed in the Court of Claims, argues the state health department’s rules violate the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by discriminating against younger athletes through banning high school play but not professional and college teams.
It also argues the rule only impacts poorer families who can’t pay to travel out-of-state to Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin — all of which have been playing winter contact sports since Dec. 1.
Winter contact sports have started in 38 states as of Feb. 1, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).
The lawsuit was funded via a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $58,000 from 975 people.
Ruddell said they had many conversations with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, but there were no other means to resolve the dispute other than the court system.
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, has also asked Whitmer to explain the ban on contact high school sports.
He posted a map showing Michigan was one of only three states not allowing high school basketball games.
MHSAA data argues that COVID-19 cases have decreased in Michigan’s neighboring states, although they’ve been playing contact sports.
It’s unclear if the lawsuit will be resolved by Feb. 21, the date when the current sports ban is set to expire. In Wisconsin, daily new cases per 100,000 dropped from 117.8 on Nov. 15 to 26.4 on Feb. 1, according to MHSAA data.
“This is for the best interest of the student-athletes. They need to be on the court for their mental health, their emotional health, their physical health, and their long-term education and career pathways,” Ruddell told reporters.
“The skills they will gain as a student-athlete, for many of these, are lifelong skills about teamwork, grit, and perseverance. And these are important skills for all of us to have as adults. So we think it’s time to let them play.”
State Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, has argued kids should be allowed to play sports.
“There’s simply no proof to show that playing basketball, or any other school organized sport, has contributed to the increased spread of COVID-19 in our kids,” Filler said in a statement.
“Suspending the winter contact sport season any longer is not necessary. It’s not supported by data and it’s causing undue harm to our young people. It’s unacceptable to continue enforcing broad, sweeping restrictions without providing any metrics about why they are being implemented or what needs to happen before they are lifted. We must start having practical conversations about what steps need to be taken for people to return to their lives.”
Last week, Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, pointed out the University of Michigan closed down its sports programs because of the more contagious COVID-19 variant. The main concern is that kids could contract COVID-19 and spread it to their parents or grandparents. In Michigan, COVID-19 was a sole or contributing factor of 90% of death in individuals 60 years or older.
The MHSAA COVID-19 testing program has conducted more than 30,000 rapid tests on 5,000 student-athletes and coaches over the last month, and 99.8% have been negative.
MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said Whitmer “took decisive action during the recent surge of COVID-19 cases that threatened to overrun hospitals.”
Sutfin cited a University of Michigan School of Public Health study claiming state-mandated restrictions likely prevented over 100,000 new cases and 1,960 or more deaths.
Following declining COVID-19 numbers, Whitmer’s administration is reviewing current mitigation measures, Sutfin added.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.