The first goal of the #WeAreUnited and #WeWantToPlay movement, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said Monday, is to ensure that college football is played in 2020, but he envisions a future in which players have a seat at the table on other issues, too.
Lawrence and teammate Darien Rencher worked with nearly a dozen college football players from around the country late Sunday night to craft a message imploring the sport's leadership to not nix the season amid safety concerns created by the coronavirus pandemic. The long-term goals, however, could be even bigger.
"I'm all for some of the things that can be beneficial to athletes down the road, like name/image/likeness, and there's a time and place," Rencher said Monday. "But I know if we don't play, there's going to be nothing to be compensated on. As we play the game, we can come to the table more."
The pair put together a Zoom call with players from each of the Power 5 leagues at 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday and crafted a concise list of demands for athletes, including a universal health and safety protocol, eligibility extensions for players who opt out of the season and, notably, the formation of a players' association.
Lawrence and Rencher were among four Clemson players who organized an on-campus protest against police brutality in June, and Rencher said he connected with several players from other campuses in the process. As they began to see the 2020 season slipping away, Rencher and Lawrence realized that a unified voice could carry some weight.
"We realized we've got to do something quick, and we've got to do something that people will read it and listen," Lawrence said Monday. "All the momentum was going the wrong way for us. We just started talking, and we all agreed: The No. 1 priority for us was we all wanted to play."
Lawrence said Clemson's leadership has been good about involving the players in decisions, and the safety protocols in place are working, but he has been frustrated by the lack of communication elsewhere. He hoped the #WeAreUnited movement could help address some of the chief concerns about playing a season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We just feel like if the NCAA can talk and put a plan together on what we need to do to be safe, I feel like we can do it," Lawrence said. "Here, we're safe, so we can do it."
Clemson had a rash of positive COVID-19 tests in June and early July, but coach Dabo Swinney said Monday that just one person has tested positive in the past month.
Although the unified front on playing in 2020 was the easy part, Lawrence said there were conversations about how a potential players' association could fight for other changes long-term. Rencher invoked name/image/likeness rights and suggested that revenue sharing could be an issue in the future.
"Every generation has a responsibility to bring about change, and we want to bring about change," Rencher said.
Swinney has been a vocal critic of paying players directly, but he suggested Monday that he'd be a proponent of a players' association.
"I think it'd be great to have a players' association, but that's different from a union," said Swinney, who suggested last week that he'd be open to revenue sharing only if it's tied to graduation. "But having a players' association -- that's what we have here. All these players, we have lots of communication. That's how we've made a lot of decisions, and a lot of great things have come to our program through our players' voice. That, on a bigger scale all throughout college football, would be awesome."
Lawrence hewed closer to the #WeWantToPlay line, saying that his priority is getting back on the field. Lawrence noted that he has a big NFL payday awaiting him, and name/image/likeness will be an issue coming soon to college football, but he said the consensus among players he spoke to is that everything begins with making sure athletes' voices are heard.
"When decisions are being made on our behalf, it helps us tremendously to have a players' voice to that," Lawrence said. "It just makes for better decisions when we understand them and they understand us. We're all adults making decisions for ourselves."
Swinney said he was fully supportive of Lawrence and Rencher's work, and he reiterated the need to play football in 2020.
"We all know there's risk, but it's fully my belief that these guys are safer here," Swinney said. "If you told me if we canceled football that nobody'd get the virus, I'd be the first person to sign up. That's not reality. The virus isn't going away, and it's still going to be here in the spring. We've done a good job here of mitigating and finding a way to live with it and do things in a safe way so we can do what we love to do."