"They could only cover it up so long and now that we have so many cases across athletics, they can't cover it up anymore," one player told the local paper

Colorado State football
Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty

Colorado State University football players say the school's athletic department downplayed the dangers of the novel coronavirus by pressuring them to disregard safety guidelines and forgo testing.

According to ESPN reporter Myron Medcalf, multiple CSU football players claim they were told to ignore potential coronavirus symptoms after a member of the coaching staff said they couldn't "afford it" as a team. This reportedly led one player, who eventually tested positive, to continue exercising after developing a serious cough.

Positive coronavirus cases on the team eventually spiked over the last two weeks, and football workouts were suspended on July 29 after eight players were diagnosed with the virus, The Coloradoan reported.

Multiple players told the ESPN that Coach Steve Adazzio held a virtual meeting the day after and he allegedly told the team he would try to restart activities earlier than the 14-day quarantine recommended by the federal government depending on team-wide testing.

The number of positive cases on the football team rose to 11 as of Sunday.

According to ESPN, the staff's allegedly relaxed attitude toward the virus caused some players to feel "scared" about informing them of symptoms out of fear of jeopardizing their season or future.

The Coloradoan reported that 10 players and staff spoke to them about what they described as the team's mishandling of coronavirus protocols.

"I believe there is a coverup going on at CSU,'' one anonymous player told the newspaper. "But they could only cover it up so long and now that we have so many cases across athletics, they can’t cover it up anymore. It’s not about the health and safety of the players but about just trying to make money off the players.''

The university president, Joyce McConnell, told ESPN that the school was launching an investigation into the allegations.

When contacted by PEOPLE, the university sent statements from Adazzio and Athletic Director Joe Parker, who both said health was their "top priority."

"It was troubling to read today that any student-athlete is concerned about our department's commitment to their health and safety," Parker said in the statement. "As we have reiterated daily with our staff and student-athletes, their health is our top priority ... The report that some football student-athletes were instructed to withhold symptoms would run counter to repeated communications we have had with our staff and student-athletes."

"I fully embrace President McConnell's investigation into this matter, and if we learn anyone on our staff has not been fully supportive of our commitment to health and safety, this is unacceptable and will be dealt with swiftly," Parker continued.

Adazzio said he "embraced" the investigation and called the allegations "unacceptable."

"We have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan in collaboration with the University's Pandemic Preparedness Team which includes specific, strictly enforced processes and procedures to build and maintain a culture of safety, compliance and responsibility to all members of the football program and the community," he said.

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"The health and welfare of our student-athletes on the Colorado State football team is our top priority, and I fully support President McConnell's investigation into concerns about whether these protocols were properly followed by everyone involved with our program," Adazzio said in the statement.

"We want every student-athlete to have confidence that we are taking every possible measure to ensure their safety, and we will continue working with the training staff, the athletic department and the University to evaluate and implement any additional steps necessary to live up to our high standards," he continued.

Coronavirus continues to be a major issue for the country five months after widespread lockdowns as the first wave of cases erupted. The United States has seen more than 4.8 million cases and 158,030 deaths from the virus as of Wednesday afternoon, according to The New York Times.

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