Canadian DB Benjamin St-Juste calls for better NCAA COVID-19 protocols in CNN appearance

Photo courtesy: Eric Miller | University of Minnesota Athletics

University of Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste is the latest in a string of Canadian-born NCAA players demanding change in the college ranks.

Following news that the Big Ten in the NCAA would play a conference-only football schedule in 2020, over 1,000 Big Ten football players signed on to a letter in the Player’s Tribune that demanded stringent health protocols for a season to take place. The letter was penned by College Athlete Unity, a member organization that represents student athletes at all levels of the NCAA, NAIA and U Sports. The letter was scathing in its critique of NCAA negligence.

“We are deeply disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by the NCAA with respect to player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that the NCAA must — on its own and through collaboration with the conference — devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season.”

“The NCAA — which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement — has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing. Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”

The letter goes on to detail specific player proposals for change in five key areas, including testing, oversight and guaranteed medical coverage. The full letter can be found here.

The Montreal born St-Juste, along with University of Michigan defender Hunter Reynolds, are the media contacts for the Big Ten initiative and they joined CNN’s Kate Bolduan to discuss the issue on Thursday morning.

The head of the NCAA had disagreed with the players, stating the organization had taken medically advised precautions. St-Juste said it was too little, too late.

“The time that it took to come up with something, it was about five or six months. For the longest time athletes thought that coaches were hiding some information, but they were being kept in the dark just like us,” he said on CNN.

“This time of uncertainty creates a super stressful environment for every student athlete. We are about to start camp and we still don’t know what is going to happen and what the clear protocol is.”

With programs and conferences able to choose their own protocols, there has been little oversight and student athletes have not been consulted.

“We are the ones experiencing all those plans and protocols so there should be some sort of communication with the student athlete,” St-Juste emphasized.

The Canadian cornerback had a break-out season in 2019, making 45 tackles and leading the team in pass breakups with 10 on the way to being named an All-Big Ten honourable mention. Originally a Michigan commit, St-Juste played little for the Wolverines but graduated in just two years before revitalizing his career with the Golden Gophers. He has since received a Master’s in sports management and had no trouble being spokesperson for his cause while using his second language.

“I think what we are missing right now is a real formal meeting with the head guys in the NCAA and the conference, for our leaders to go over some of those points and see if we can find a common goal, come together and change things for the better,” he told viewers.

St-Juste has not been alone in his activism as a Canadian. Burnaby-born Oregon Duck defensive back Jevon Holland has led the charge for reform in the PAC 12, while Cornish Trophy winner Chuba Hubbard made headlines when he called out his Oklahoma State head coach for perpetuating racism by promoting far-right news sources amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

St-Juste summed up his advocacy well on Twitter.

This is for the previous generations of student-athletes who didn’t get the chance to speak up for what’s right!!” he said.

In so doing, he continues to make his country proud.