/Coach-turned-author John Barry still loves football but urges caution during pandemic

Coach-turned-author John Barry still loves football but urges caution during pandemic

Barry was a former coach of football at high school, college, and major college levels. He still loves the sport and admits to enjoying replays on the SEC Network of old games. Barry is a well-respected expert in pandemic preparedness, having done extensive research on the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. He has written articles for scientific journals and opinion pieces for several magazines during the current pandemic. You might see him on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “World News Tonight,” PBS’s “The News Hour” or many other NPR programs. Barry isn’t a firm believer that college football should be played during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite his passion for football and knowledge about pandemics. The Mississippi season opens Thursday night with Southern Miss hosting South Alabama. Barry stated that it was a difficult question. It would be a tragedy for any university to have students on campus. Why do universities exist? Universities exist to provide entertainment or education. “Any school that plays without on-campus instruction should begin paying its athletes.” Many college conference have decided to not play this fall, including the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. The Southeastern Conference has pushed back its season to Sept. 26, and will only play conference games. Conference USA will play a full schedule. Old Dominion, however, has decided to withdraw from the tournament. Barry stated, “I believe you can play if your testing is correct, social distancing is high, and the rate of community transmission are low.” I feel the exact same way about football and life. Southern Miss will follow all orders and protocols. This includes allowing 25% capacity (roughly 9,000 fans) to the game. Although the community transmission rates for Hattiesburg, Forrest County have improved in recent weeks there were still 102 cases last week. This is down from more than 200 in late July or early August. The Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed at least 50,000,000 people worldwide and 675,000 Americans, had a similar effect on college football. Some conferences were able to play, while others didn’t. Southern Miss was not represented in Mississippi. Ole Miss and Mississippi State had reduced schedules. Barry stated that hockey was one of the most important sports stories from the 1918 pandemic. “Professional hockey actually cancelled the Stanley Cup championship series after both teams had players become ill,” Barry said. The series ended tied at 2-2-1 with only one remaining game. It was never cancelled. One player died. One coach died after the disease had progressed. This is the only instance in history when the Stanley Cup was not presented after the playoffs began. Barry said that the so-called Spanish flu left many people with long-term health issues. Barry stated that there were many complications, most of which were neurological in nature and didn’t show up for many years. We don’t know much about the virus or its long-term effects on our health. Many people who are not symptomatic have heart disease and lung damage. We should be cautious. Barry is currently the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine’s Distinguished Scholar. He was a graduate assistant and coached wide receivers for one of the most successful Tulane teams. Benny Ellender, the Green Wave’s head coach, was a winner of nine games and lost three. He also defeated LSU, then archrival and ranked No. 8 in the country, 14-0. Ellender was awarded a 10-year contract following the season. Barry stated that Ellender turned down the Ole Miss coaching job — “he always regretted it.” Ken Cooper was hired by Ole Miss, and Ellender was fired two years later. Barry quit coaching to write highly acclaimed books. He is now 73 and has a new book in the works. It won’t surprise you to hear it will be about the current pandemic.