Newton city councilor concerned by Boston College football players’ locker room celebration

"The team quickly returned to the COVID-19 protocols it has strictly followed."

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 26: John Lamot #28 of the Boston College Eagles runs onto the field as he celebrates a victory against the Texas State Bobcats at Alumni Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Boston College linebacker John Lamot runs off the field as he celebrates a victory Saturday against Texas State at Alumni Stadium. –Billie Weiss / Getty Images

To some, the 30-second locker room video of Boston College football players dancing in celebration after their comeback win Saturday over Texas State was a moment of distilled elation.

But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to Newton City Councilor Alicia Bowman, it was a point of concern.

As a local elected official, “this video upsets me,” Bowman tweeted Sunday.

The first-term city councilor, whose ward is just a mile away from BC’s Alumni Stadium, noted that pretty much everything captured in the video — chanting, shouting, and dancing without masks indoors and in close proximity to others — runs afoul of the safety guidance stressed time and again by public health officials over the past six months.

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After welcoming students back to campus for the fall semester, BC has already seen a cluster of COVID-19 infections among members of its swimming and diving team — and more than 150 cases in its general student body since mid-August. Newton, where much of BC’s campus is located, has seen a total of 964 infections and 136 deaths due to the disease, according to the city’s most recent data — though cases have been consistently low since the beginning of the summer.

Bowman wrote Sunday that BC football players “don’t live in a bubble,” noting that COVID-19 is “real and deadly.”

“But clearly no one here cares about that,” she added.

Bowman, who linked to a study raising concerns about the likelihood of false negative tests, said in an interview that, even if the school is testing regularly, there are no assurances that everyone is coronavirus-free.

“There is a real possibility that someone in that room has COVID,” Bowman told Boston.com, adding that she wasn’t taking issue with the individual players.

“There’s certainly lots of adults in that room that are allowing that to happen,” she said. “It just seems like risky behavior.”

BC, which is the only college football program in New England playing this fall, says they’re taking the disease seriously.

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Under the guidelines set forth by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the football team has been required to adhere to strict safety protocols, including COVID-19 testing three times a week. Since the football team returned to Chestnut Hill, officials said that as of Monday they had administered more than 3,700 tests — with just one positive case back in late June.

Jason Baum, the college’s senior associate athletic director, told Boston.com in an email that the team was most recently tested Friday and subsequently quarantined in a hotel until the home game Saturday afternoon.

“The momentary post-game celebration in the locker room involved team members who had zero positive COVID-19 tests,” Baum said. “The team quickly returned to the COVID-19 protocols it has strictly followed, and will continue to adhere to these protocols to help ensure the safety of our team members and the well-being of the BC and neighboring communities.”

NFL guidelines says that professional football teams should reconfigure their locker room to permit six feet of space between players or install physical dividers to prevent COVID-19 transmissions. Players are also required to maintain physical distancing in the locker room “to the extent possible.”

While the NCAA has no such requirements, the organization notes that “even low-risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.”

Bowman noted that Baum appeared to “admit they took a break from COVID 19 protocols to celebrate.”

“The celebration could have happened outside,” she said. “It could have happened with masks. It could have happened with separation. It could have happened with all three of those.”

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Unlike the NBA’s bubble, BC football players aren’t entirely cut off from the rest of the world; Bowman noted students inherently interact with — and are members of — the Newton community. While the players themselves may be at less risk of complications due to COVID-19, Bowman said the people with whom they ultimately interact could be in higher-risk categories.

Her concerns were echoed by dozens on Twitter, but Bowman said she got a fair amount of backlash, including nasty emails accusing her of overreacting — or even of being anti-Catholic or racist.

Bowman says her tweets weren’t intended to “bash” the BC football players; she isn’t even questioning the football team’s decision to participate in fall sports. As the mother of children who missed their own high school and college graduations this spring, Bowman says she understands the desire for life to be back to normal.

But that moment in time remains distant (Newton still hasn’t brought all of its public students back for in-person classes). And as much as Bowman would like the pandemic to end, she says a good testing regimen isn’t enough; it must be coupled with consistent adherence to the protocols to stop COVID-19 transmission in the first place, she said.

“They’re doing all these other things to try to stop the spread,” Bowman said. “That could be done in a moment like this.”

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