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UCLA players demand third-party oversight for health, safety administration

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UCLA football players request outside officials to oversee health guidelines (2:20)

Tom VanHaaren reports that multiple UCLA football players will refuse to attend promotional activities unless the team gets third-party officials to oversee health guidelines. (2:20)

UCLA football players have come together to demand their health and safety is protected as they approach a return to campus, workouts and, eventually, practice.

In a document obtained by ESPN and first reported by the Los Angeles Times, 30 current players and one former player had signed the letter asking that third-party health officials be put in charge of overseeing and enforcing health and safety guidelines, and that the guidelines be clearly and publicly stated.

The players are also asking for whistleblower protections to be provided for athletes and staff who want to report violations of any guidelines, as well as the ability to make decisions in regard to personal health without consequences in terms of loss of scholarship or retaliation from coaches in any form.

As players are scheduled to return to organized activities July 6, the document states that they probably will be put into situations where practicing social distancing could deteriorate, and attending the events should be at the discretion of student-athletes.

"Furthermore, should an athlete choose to attend these events, we demand that third-party health officials, tasked with enforcing COVID-19 regulations and identifying breaches in conduct, be present at all team activities and events in order to mitigate detrimental consequences placed on students by the possible future mishandling and neglect of COVID-19 cases," the document read.

According to a source, a majority of the leaders on the team met virtually over video conferencing to discuss the demands, but not all players were present on the call.

The athletes go on to demand that the health officials have no affiliation with the university or football program and are asking for full transparency because of alleged past transgressions. The document says that as the result of precedents set by former and current athletics staffs, the players will no longer leave the topic of their health and safety in the hands "of those who have perpetually failed us."

Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson tweeted Friday about the players' concerns.

In addition to the third-party health officials, the players are seeking a space or platform where the athletes and staff can directly express concerns about violations of safety standards anonymously.

The student-athletes close the letter by stating that if their demands are not met, they will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.

"The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision."

UCLA has set up an anonymous hotline and a web link where players can share any concerns about their return during the pandemic, including naming coaches or other staff who aren't following protocols, a source said.

Athletes will face no scholarship losses or other penalties if they choose not to participate this fall, according to the source. Athletes were repeatedly informed about their voluntary participation on Zoom calls this week. Also, UCLA's faculty athletics representative Michael Teitell, a renowned immunologist and pathologist, is expected to be around the football program often during its return to competition.

In a letter sent to players that was obtained by ESPN, UCLA incoming athletic director Martin Jarmond addressed each issue in the players' document, confirming that no athletes will lose their scholarships if they don't feel comfortable participating in athletics this fall.

"The decision to return to campus next week is entirely up to you," Jarmond's letter reads in part. "You are welcome to remain at home, and anyone who chooses to do so will not face retaliation or ramifications in any way."

The letter notes that any concerns related to COVID-19 reported anonymously will be directed to Teitell. Doctors from UCLA Health will direct and oversee protocols around athletes' return to training.

Matt Elliott, the university's senior associate athletic director for internal operations, said during a conference call Saturday that most of what the players requested was already in place or being reviewed.

"Coach [Chip] Kelly and Martin got on a Zoom call on Friday to answer questions. It was voluntary and a great opportunity for everyone to have clear and direct answers," Elliott said.

UCLA received approval only Monday for athletes to return to campus, and began conducting Zoom meetings with athletes Tuesday.

Information from ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.