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Millsaps Athlete Dia Fortenberry Reveals What It Is Like to Train in a Mask and Her Thoughts on NCAA’s Decision to Cancel D-1 Sports

Nearly every aspect of life has changed since the coronavirus pandemic quickly spread across the globe. Unfortunately, sports were similarly affected. Fans were left for months with no live sports to watch and were not sure as to when they would return. To many sports fanatics’ delight, games, matches, and meets would of course return, although they are looking quite different. 

From the NBA Bubble to the return of Big 10 Football, sports are returning and taking several measures to promote safety while continuing to generate a profit. In this aspect, Millsaps College is the same. Although competition is cancelled, practice is still in effect for most sports. It seems Millsaps’ safety precautions for these practices consists of solely mask-wearing. 

Dia Fortenberry, a senior on the women’s basketball team, says that masks can be “burdensome” during high intensity training—even with masks that are made specifically for sports: 

“Even though we don’t wear regular masks, we wear the sleeve mask, but even with that there is not only constant hot air on your face, but you’re not getting as much oxygen on top of that. So yeah it definitely affects your breathing, it’s not the same quality of air that you would be getting,” Dia stated. 

This is not to say mask wearing is not necessary. Of course, stopping the spread of the coronavirus is critical to society right now. It speaks to the perseverance, determination, and moxie of an athlete to continue their passion while still continuing to uphold the responsibility of slowing the spread of the pandemic. Dia recognizes these circumstances, even though they aren’t always easy to grasp. 

“It feels like a lot of responsibility too because you know what the rules and responsibilities are, and you don’t want to endanger anybody, but at the same time, you’re always with your teammates who turn into your friends, and it’s easy to just look at somebody with their mask down and being like ‘hey mask check’… It is the worst to see somebody having difficulty breathing and having to tell them to put their mask up” Dia commented. 

Coronavirus has revealed the true grit that college athletes have; however, grit is not the only thing that has been shown through college sports. Most large D-I colleges are continuing competition; However, the NCAA cancelled all competition for D-III sports. This decision raises a lot of questions such as: Why are D-1 sports like football allowed to have competition when D-III sports aren’t? After all, both divisions belong to the NCAA. Dia and other student athletes believe the NCAA’s decision is tied to favoritism. 

“It’s really telling of the scam of college sports. There is a lot of money circulating and D-I institutions are the heart of that—D-III not so much. I know having worked NCAA leadership conferences—it’s a money thing. That is not to say that they aren’t concerned with the health of D-I institutions, but they are concerned more about the profit that they can rake in from the regular season and of course their championships. There is no difference between coronavirus at Florida State and coronavirus at Millsaps College,” Dia explained. 

Regarding this decision, coronavirus has affected NCAA’s reputation. However, the current pandemic could also have a positive impact on a certain part of the NCAA. Coaches, recruiters, and other positions 

may now be pushed to adhere more to being a life-mentor than ever before. Dia described this by stating that the pandemic has revealed what sports really are to her. 

“Covid-19 has ripped off the band-aid off of what sports are. It has exposed the true role of coaches and administration in the sports department. When you sign up for jobs like that now—and I didn’t have this view earlier—you’re kind of signing up to be a life coach, to be a parent, to be a mentor.” Dia continues, 

“Especially now that you can’t advertise the glitz and glam of saying ‘we are going to have 25 games a season.’ Now the focus is more on how are you helping me develop as a woman, as a man, as a human, as a person? What can I take away from this program, and what can I contribute to this program? How can we build up this program together, and what will I take away from this program when I step away from it?” Dia said. 

There is no question about it, recruiting in college athletics is going to look very different in the upcoming years. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the diligence of a college athlete, highlighted questionable decision making by the NCAA, and has pushed workers in the sports administration to be their best.