SMU Athletic Department Requires Athletes to Sign COVID-19 Waiver

Student athletes can return to voluntary workouts on SMU's Hilltop, but at what cost?
Student athletes can return to voluntary workouts on SMU's Hilltop, but at what cost? Jeffrey Beall
Any student athlete hoping hoping to return to athletic activities on Southern Methodist University's campus this summer will be required to sign a waiver absolving the school of potential liability should the student contract the novel coronavirus, according to documents first obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
The waiver, anonymously supplied to the News by an SMU athlete, asks athletes to verify that they are responsible for following CDC guidelines and keeping themselves safe from COVID-19. Athletes also must confirm that they are both returning to campus and sports voluntarily and "hereby waive and release SMU, its employees, trustees, officers and agents from and against all claims, liability, rights, causes of action, costs, attorney's fees and expenses of any nature whatsoever" resulting from their potentially having contracted COVID-19.

Sounds like they're going to a Trump rally.

Student-athletes, according to the waiver, do have the option of not returning to campus or athletic activities and and keeping their athletic eligibility and scholarships.

“[It] acknowledges obviously that we’re co-existing with a pandemic, just to be clear that, No. 1 all of our student athletes know that there’s risk associated with returning to campus at this time and participating in voluntary workouts,” SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart told the DMN. "And then No. 2, making sure that they clearly understand, if for any reason they’re not comfortable doing so, that it won’t impact their eligibility or their scholarship status."

According to Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback, it's that last part that's key to the waiver's being an enforceable legal document.

"(I)t is clear that SMU’s lawyers put a lot of thought into it. The document would likely be an enforceable waiver," Ruback says. "This sentence is key: 'I understand this decision will not affect my eligibility or scholarship.' Without that sentence, a student-athlete could have a strong argument that he signed the document under duress, as failure to sign might mean losing his scholarship and potentially even his ability to get a college education."

Texas law gives individuals the right to waive rights in most cases, Ruback says, as long as doing so doesn't occur under duress and isn't illegal.

"I see no reason why a student-athlete could not waive his rights against SMU related to COVID-19 liability," he says.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young