Robert Paylor’s paralysis makes athletic injustices more apparent

CAMPUS ISSUES: Risks to student athletes warrant more attention from campus administration

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Willow Yang/Senior Staff

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College athletes at UC Berkeley are essentially working a full-time job for the campus, and they’re not being paid for it.

Let’s not mince words. A lot of college sports on major university campuses are professional in everything but name and pay. Student athletes train for long, grueling hours on top of their course loads, which at UC Berkeley are of no trivial concern, and compete under an incredible amount of pressure and attention, putting themselves at risk of bodily harm.

For many, college sports are a transactional exchange: You get a diploma — sometimes partially or fully paid for — and in exchange you offer your skills and your labor. Some people wouldn’t have gotten into college without their sport. It’s about access.

Sometimes, though, the risks may far outweigh the benefits. Take the recent case of Cal rugby player Robert Paylor, who just last week suffered an injury at the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup that left his lower body paralyzed with limited motion in his arms.

The UC Berkeley athletic insurance program is paying his medical bills, as it should.

“Providing care for the health of our student-athletes is a fundamental priority for us,” said Cal Athletics spokesperson Herb Benenson. “We remain in close contact with Robert and his family to help ensure they receive the support they need.”

That’s all fine and good, but even with the coverage campus is providing, Paylor’s family friend has still felt the need to set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover what Cal Athletics has chosen to call “unanticipated costs above and beyond traditional medical care.” Are Cal Athletics and the campus doing enough?

Covering athletes’ emergency medical costs is nice, but it’s sort of too little, too late. Assistance after the fact doesn’t make up for the fact itself, and particularly in contact sports, the risk of this kind of injury is real and often not adequately factored into conversations about safety for athletes.

Cal hosts one of the best college rugby programs in the country, and with no professional league rivaling the NBA or NFL waiting on the other side, rugby players will often not go on to make a big salary post-college. There seems to be a lack of communication from college coaches. The players that are joining should know the risks; the possibility of this kind of injury is probably not the crux of any recruiting pitch.

Nobody wants to deal with emergencies. Nobody wants to have to have these plans in place, but they need to be there because college athletes are constantly forced to put themselves in harm’s way. There will always be crises, and when you have life-altering “unanticipated” costs, the university must go above and beyond to cover them.

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  • Jc Flores

    Why would anyone assume that athletes who have been playing a sport for as long as a typical Cal rugby recruit (best in the nation) might have, wouldn’t know about the injury risks?