Councilman Mark Levine responds to NYC HS sports blackout concerns on Carton & Roberts

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According to CHSAA executive Dom Vulpis and Ray Nash, NYC Councilman and Health Committee Chair Mark Levine has been hard to get a hold of in the search for answers about the high school sports blackout in New York City.

Well, after Vulpis and Nash came on Tuesday’s Carton & Roberts to share their plight, Levine himself joined Craig and Evan on Wednesday and took the mea culpa for the lack of communication.

“That’s on us for not responding. Even Eli Manning threw an interception now and them, so that’s my bad,” Levine said. “I’m out there all the time, on TV or radio or Twitter, but we fumbled on this one, and I own that.”

Levine also said he has “no inside info” on what the Mayor’s scheduled announcement on the topic will reveal next week, nor does he think any delays have a financial motive.

“The Governor gave this to local jurisdictions on Feb. 1, so this is in the hands of the Mayor; I know there’s internal deliberation, but I’m not privy to those conversations,” Levine said. “I’m not even sure if there’s more money in being open or being closed, I think it’s about balancing the mental health benefit and wanting to slow the spread of a pandemic.”

That said, Levine noted that he has actually been a champion for youth sports during the pandemic – including leading the charge to get the NYC Parks Department to re-start issuing permits for fields and venues back in August – and is in the same boat on this case.

“The Mayor will make those decisions, but with the right protocols, I think kids can start playing again,” Levine said. “We have to be careful because COVID is still out there, but if we have testing, limit crowd size, and have good health protocols, we can do these things, and I want to help.”

The councilman repeatedly stressed that he agrees with the notion of there being health benefits, both physical and mental, for student-athletes to resume playing, and also doubled down on the notion brought forth Tuesday that learning can be virtual, but sports can’t.

He also touched on the thought that there is some inequity in the demographics and socioeconomics of those affected by the sports shutdown.

“Field access is a battle, but I would support it given safety protocols, and it should apply to all schools public or private,” Levine said. “This is about equity for kids who depend on sports for a healthy outlet, and that’s certainly driving my decision making.”

As Health Committee chair, Levine did note that NYC still does have a high rate of COVID spread, with nearly 4,000 new cases a day and new variants (including the newly-named NYC variant) still being discovered. That’s a much higher percentage than other areas, and while it’s plateauing, it’s still a high number – but we also now know a lot more about how the virus spreads, and how to help prevent it.

“Caution is warranted, but there are health benefits to allowing kids to play. There will have to be safety protocols, but kids and parents I’ve talked to have said they’ll do anything they need to,” Levine said. “I think they’re understanding that the fear we have had about catching COVID through touching surfaces isn’t as bad as feared, and as we add vaccinations in we can do even more.”

With no vaccine approved yet for children – hopefully fall for teenagers, Levine noted – he expressed that much of this succeeding is incumbent on parents continuing to follow protocols, improving ventilation in schools as they re-open, and getting teachers (and all adults) vaccinated and vetted to keep everyone safe.

Levine stressed often to Craig & Evan that getting the word out and championing for vaccination will be incredibly helpful in the fight, and commended the hosts for getting involved.

“Speaking up the way you are, having kids and parents speak up, is incredibly helpful. But also show that you care about vaccinations and preventing the spread,” Levine said. “From the health administrators I talk to, we have a challenging few weeks ahead, but the outlook for a few months from now is good…and if not completely normal, I think our summer will be normal-ish.”

And in the interim, he urges parents and student-athletes to keep speaking up.

“If you feel we can safely start, I feel like you should let the Mayor know, and talk about your commitment to safety.”

You can listen to Councilman Levine’s entire segment with Carton & Roberts below.

Follow WFAN's afternoon team on Twitter: @CartonRoberts, @Craigcartonlive, @EvanRobertsWFAN, @TommyLugauer, and @CMacWFAN

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