On Tuesday morning, the Let Them Play group finally filed a lawsuit it threatened against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in hopes of restoring contact winter sports competition as soon as possible.
Formally listed as Let Them Play, Inc. in the lawsuit, the nonprofit is hoping to overturn an order banning competition in competitive boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and cheerleading. Currently, teams in these sports are only allowed to participate in non-contact exercises during training until the order expires on February 21.
The order was issued by former MDHHS director Robert Gordon on January 22, 2021. The lawsuit now targets Elizabeth Hertel, Gordon’s recently appointed successor as MDHHS director.
Who are the complainants?
The Let Them Play group formed organically from a grassroots social media campaign to restore football after it was announced in August 2020 that the sport was moving into the spring of 2021. The football season has finally been reinstated in September and Let Them Play had organized rallies at the State Capitol building.
Now with over 38,000 supporters on Facebook, The last Let Them Play rally at the Capitol took place on January 30.
Yet, Let Them Play is one of many plaintiffs listed as Michigan Amateur Youth Hockey League, LLC (MAYHL). In the lawsuit, the MAYHL case states that its “sole purpose is to provide a positive and rewarding hockey experience for young amateur hockey players. The January 22 order prevented her from fulfilling this goal.
With Let Them Play and MAYHL, four separated parents and a set of married parents are listed as plaintiffs representing themselves and their children. Married couple Brian and Rona Dethloff also represent their son Carter Dethloff, who plays hockey for Mona Shores. Brian and Rona Dethloff mourn the loss of their son Brennan Dethloff, who died on January 18, 2021 after suffering fatal injuries in a car crash. Brian Dethloff said his son’s death was a direct result of her succumbing to the mental struggles he endured due to continued delays in winter sports in Michigan.
The rest of the parents listed as complainants also have children involved in contact sports in high school which are currently restricted. The full list of complainants is available here.
How does the trial do its business?
The main objective of the lawsuit is to force the MDHHS to issue a new emergency health ordinance to allow all winter contact sports to immediately begin practice and competition.
Attorney Peter B. Ruddell of Honigman LLP in Lansing represents all of the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit and he presented six allegations in which he believes the MDHHS violated the US Constitution, the Michigan Constitution and / or the law of l ‘State of Michigan.
“It’s for the best interests of the student-athletes,” Ruddell said. “They need to be on the ground for their mental health, their emotional health, their physical health and their long-term education and career path. The skills they will learn as a student athlete are lifelong skills of teamwork, courage and perseverance. These are important skills that we all need to have as adults, and we think it’s time to let them play… The problem with student athletes and parents is just that – she is particularly focused on that. We believe that the ban on indoor athletics has a wider impact that has a negative impact on student-athletes and that is not justified by data or science. “
The violations he accuses Hertel and the MDHHS involve a violation of equal protection (U.S. Constitution), a violation of due process (U.S. Constitution), a violation of the right to freedom of assembly (U.S. Constitution) , a violation of the right to free education (Michigan Constitution), violation of the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (Michigan law) and violation of the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act (Michigan law).
Are there numbers in the evidence?
Along with the allegations of the six violations, the lawsuit cites an “in-depth” study from Wisconsin that suggests that “playing sports is healthy for student-athletes and does not cause harm to the community at large through the spread of COVID 19 . “
Evidence from this study “found that student-athletes had a lower case and incidence rate than 14 to 17 year olds in Wisconsin; no sport had a higher incidence rate of COVID-19; and, of the 209 positive COVID-19 cases among gamers, only one has been attributed to participation in sports.
The lawsuit also claims to have an affidavit from Detroit Renaissance High School girls’ basketball coach Olaseni (Shane) Lawal. The affidavit is said to give “Lawal’s observation on the disparate impact of the MDHHS emergency order on its students, who are predominantly racial minorities.”
“Many” letters from various school officials across the state are also believed to be included in the evidence.
Let Them Play also released a Michigan High School Athletic Association fact sheet citing the MDHHS COVID-19 rapid test pilot program that was used to allow fall sports to end in January. Although not included in the original trial body of evidence, the MHSAA reports that the pilot test program included 5,376 people (participants and coaches) in the sports of swimming and diving, volleyball and girls’ soccer who started out. practice at the end of December. Each individual was required to take a “quick” COVID test three times a week.
According to statistics from the MHSAA, the number of people who tested positive for COVID under the rapid testing program was 1 percent (57 of 5,376). In the latest MDHHS rapid test data update, nearly 30,000 rapid tests had been performed as of January 19 with a negative test rate of 99.8%.
The MHSAA also noted that contact winter sports began in 38 states as of February 1. The three states bordering Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have practiced and participated in winter contact sports since December 1.
All winter sports have been practiced without contact since January 16 with gatherings of children and coaches every day. The MHSAA also claims, “There is no data or evidence to show that COVID has spread directly through school sports, since last March.”
Is the MHSAA involved in the lawsuit?
The MHSAA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, is not mentioned in the lawsuit. The MHSAA officially distanced itself from the trial on January 29 when executive director Mark Uyl said the organization preferred to stay out of the legal arena in its continued efforts to restore the sport.
“So the legal part of this – and I think you must be a bit of a history student – that in some of these emergency orders, you certain groups such as the owners of gyms and fitness centers (and) you saw the group of restaurants that went to court were very unsuccessful, ”Uyl said. “To use a sports analogy, it didn’t even really come off the starting blocks.
“If we’re going to be able to shake things up, and given the fact this week that there is now better communication and we feel, for the first time in a long time, that they are looking at the data and they understand the data and can see how the data can affect future decisions, that’s really where we’re focusing our attention right now. We believe that this will be a strategy that could give us all better answers much more quickly than going into the legal field.
On Tuesday morning, the MHSAA reaffirmed its position against the lawsuits against the state.
“We are not involved in the trial, and we were not asked to be part of the trial,” said Geoff Kimmerly, director of communications for MHSAA. “Instead, we talk directly with decision makers and work with our education partners. We have worked and will continue to work with MDHHS, as we always have, and hope to find a solution as soon as possible.
“But we support children who play as soon as possible. We understand that others have different strategies and that we have a common goal. We like this goal, but we pursue it differently. “
What happens after?
Initially, the goal of Let Them Play was to restore winter sports by February 1 at the latest. With that date passed, the trial will have to move forward quickly if it expects to breach before the February 21 expiration date of the current order.
While it is possible that the order will be extended beyond February 21, it is not known when this trial will see a courtroom.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the MDHHS had no comment on this. However, it appears the MDHHS remains committed to following its own timeline to assess Michigan’s declining COVID-19 case number and its relationship to high school sports.
“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Governor Whitmer took decisive action in the recent surge in COVID-19 cases that threatened to invade hospitals,” said Lynn Sutfin, head of the public information from the MDHHS. “According to recent data from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, these actions have likely prevented more than 100,000 new cases and 1,960 or more deaths. As the numbers continue to drop in Michigan, and as the governor has previously indicated, the administration is reviewing current mitigation measures, including those regarding contact sports. With respect to the lawsuit in question, the administration typically does not comment on litigation and make decisions based on lawsuits, but on ongoing data and advice from public health experts. “
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Sport News Highlights
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