Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 7, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is asking schools and student-athletes to take part in its #TeamUpToBeatCOVID social media campaign, a move that’s raising eyebrows from some parents concerned about involving kids in an initiative that’s become tinged with politics.
It definitely feels like a high-pressure campaign, targeting the emotions of students, coaches and parents who don’t want to lose another season of sports to state and local health bureaucrats itchy to issue more lockdown orders at the first sign of COVID-19 spread.
WIAA insists the educational effort is aimed at enhancing “the likelihood of returning to school and school activities by following safe practices.”
The association wants student-athletes, coaches and schools to push the message far and wide.
“Statements on what you/your staff or family are doing to help stop the spread, or images of mask wearing or social distancing during athletics or other activities are just two examples of content that will help promote this initiative. We encourage you to be creative!” states a WIAA email obtained by Empower Wisconsin.
“We want your student-athletes’ voices to be heard,” the email encourages.
Student-athletes are asked to provide their names, school and grade and sports they participate in. They should provide a short statement, one to three sentences, on “What does a return to sports this year mean to you?” WIAA wants photos of students wearing masks while in their jersey or practice outfit, “while holding ball/equipment OR a photo of them at practice/contact days while practicing social distancing/wearing a mask (OR at the very least, a photo of them with jersey, equipment or photo from the previous season),” the WIAA email suggests.
Scott Helms, Dean of Students/Athletics and Activities director for Hartford Union High School, seems jazzed about the marketing campaign. In an email to fall coaches, he writes that he’d like to join the initiative. He instructs them to:
1. Find one or two athletes from your sport to film a short video clip saying.
“Wear a mask, so we can wear our uniform”
“Together, we can stop the spread of COVID-19”
2. Find one or two athletes to take a photo in their uniform with a mask on and social distancing holding a sign
“If your athlete needs a Hartford mask, I have one they can use for their video or photo,” Helms wrote in the email. He wants coaches to send the messages directly to him. Helms said he would post them first from the Athletic Twitter page.
It all feels heavy handed to a Hartford parent who is concerned about the use of student-athletes to promote Gov. Tony Evers’ controversial state-wide mask mandate.
“As a high school student-athlete parent, I feel that this is a huge overstep by the WIAA, Athletic Directors, and potentially coaches who recruit student-athletes,” the parent wrote in an email first sent to conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna.
Noting that many Wisconsinites believe that the mask mandate is the latest government overreach by an administration known for exceeding its authority during the pandemic, the parent asks:
“Since school athletic directors represent all students, do you think they will give a voice for a social media campaign for students who are in opposition to the mask mandate?”
Todd Clark, WIAA’s director of communications, said engagement in the campaign is “completely voluntary.”
“If schools, students and their parents do not wish to participate, it’s respectfully their decision. All politics aside, I believe we can all support the concept to team up to beat this,” he wrote in an email to Empower Wisconsin.
It’s not the first time sports figures have joined in the government marketing campaign. In May the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released a 30-second video, propaganda promoting Evers’ political plan to slowly re-open the state.
DHS tapped former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and NBA basketball star Terry Porter, Badgers Men’s basketball coach Greg Gard, and Badgers men’s Hockey coach Tony Granato, among others, to remind Wisconsinites that, “We’re all in this together.”