Eagles Pro Bowl TE Sends Strong Message to Governor on Youth Sports

Zach Ertz

Getty Eagles Pro Bowl TE Zach Ertz is on the career trajectory for qualifying for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Zach Ertz pre-empted his media availability on Friday with a public service announcement. He wants Pennsylvania to strongly rethink their stance on delaying high school sports this year.

The Pro Bowl tight end for the Eagles stopped to address the issue about two minutes into his chat with reporters, telling everyone there needs to be an “alternative” if the state decides to cancel football. Ertz’s comments were in response to Gov. Wolf’s recommendation to postpone youth sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PIAA — Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association — hasn’t made a final decision on what to do. For now, they have discussed delaying the start of fall sports for two weeks and re-evaluating.

Ertz was speaking openly and honestly on the matter since high school sports played an integral role in helping him navigate a rough patch in his life. His parents separated when he was only 15 years old and the divorce caused him immense emotional stress. If Ertz didn’t have football to use as a crutch, the 29-year-old doesn’t know how he would have survived the ordeal.

“That [playing football] allowed me to release my kind of internal stress that I had built up,” Ertz told reporters on Friday. “And Tom Wolf came out yesterday with a recommendation that there is no football, no fall sports in general — and the adversity I faced when I was 15 is about 1/1000th of what kids in this state are going to be facing if they don’t have an outlet if there is no football in the fall for these kids.”

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Ertz Challenges Pennsylvania to ‘Invest in These Kids’

While the PIAA continues to monitor the situation, Ertz challenged thought leaders to come up with an alternative option in case there are no youth sports. Student-athletes will be impacted in innumerable ways, with some forced to spend their afternoons in toxic home environments or worse.

“If the decision is there is no football, there’s got to be an alternative where we don’t just allow these kids to go about their days with no guidance, with no further investment,” Ertz said. “So if there were to disband football, where is that money going to go? I would love to see it invested in these kids. To make sure they are OK and taken care of and not on the streets.”

Ertz acknowledged that the “priority” was for the health and safety of the kids. However, his main point was to make people understand that their mental well-being could be at serious risk as well. Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson quickly jumped on the bandwagon, too.

“I was 15 years old when my parents separated. I was the oldest of four boys and the only thing I knew how to do — the only way I knew how to express myself, I was so frustrated inside — the only thing I could do is play football,” Ertz said. “I focused, I lifted weights, I played basketball, I played football … and that allowed me to release my kind of internal stress that I had built up.”

It’s important to note that Gov. Wolf merely made a recommendation. It’s not a mandate and the PIAA has the final say. If there are no state-sanctioned sports, there are other avenues for kids to explore like private programs and AAU teams. Maybe Pennsylvania would consider funding some of those initiatives.

Ertz Never Considered Opting Out for 2020

A total of 66 NFL players ultimately chose to opt-out for the 2020 season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a fairly small number.

New England suffered the most casualties with 11 players skipping the year while the Eagles only saw one leave (Marquise Goodwin). According to The Associated Press, players with a “medical” opt-out will receive a $350,000 stipend and those “voluntarily” opting out will receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.

The NFL has done a remarkable job so far in keeping their players safe. Organizations have conducted daily testing and screening and any players or coaches (see: Doug Pederson) who test positive must self-quarantine for at least five days. They cannot return until they produce two consecutive negative tests, 24 hours apart.

Many Eagles players talked at length with their families about possibly opting out, including team leaders like Carson Wentz and Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod and Fletcher Cox. Ertz chimed in on the subject on Friday and indicated opting out never crossed his mind. He and his wife, Julie Johnston-Ertz, are in tip-top physical shape as elite athletes. They are virtually under no risk from the coronavirus.

“COVID is a very unique conversation and everyone’s conversation is different,” Ertz told reporters. “I’m in a very unique spot. My wife is one of the best athletes in the world. I’m in the premier NFL athlete kind of category so we don’t have a lot of pre-risk health factors. My biggest concern has always been my family, direct contact with family members, not that we are taking it lightly by any means.”

Ertz added that he has followed all the safety protocols at both the practice facility and out in public. He wears a mask, social distances and limits contact with strangers, including refusing to shake hands or take part in photos with fans.

“We’re taking every precaution,” Ertz said. “Whenever we go out in public, we’re wearing a mask … whenever someone asks to shake hands in public, we say we don’t feel like this is the time to be close together. I’ll give a little fist pound or air five as we pass by.”

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