Rashod Bateman opted out, opted back in and is now out again.
The star Gophers receiver announced Wednesday on Twitter that he plans to forgo the rest of the 2020 season. This came amid a COVID-19 outbreak for the 2-3 Gophers, who had to cancel Saturday’s rivalry game at Wisconsin.
“After further dialogue with coach [P.J.] Fleck and my family,” Bateman wrote, “we decided that after this most recent COVID-19 outbreak and the cancellation of the weekend’s game, that it made the most sense to begin to focus on the next stage of my life.”
Bateman was one of the first notable opt-outs back in early August, citing concerns about playing safely in the coronavirus pandemic after becoming sick with COVID-19 himself during the summer. The Big Ten subsequently canceled and then reinstated its season with new safety protocols, including daily testing, that convinced Bateman to return.
He received special dispensation from the NCAA to come back, despite signing with an agency and taking money for housing, training and transportation. The projected first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft hoped for one last hurrah with his teammates while possibly improving his draft stock.
Instead, the Gophers dropped their first two games of the season and have been inconsistent in all facets of the game. Bateman, a 1,000-yard Big Ten Receiver of the Year in 2019, had 36 catches for 472 yards and two scores through five games.
Fleck said in a statement he fully supports Bateman, who had two years of eligibility left, pursuing his dream.
“It was a joy to watch Rashod develop into an All-American receiver on the field and a strong, positive advocate for social change off of it,” Fleck said. “He is one of the best to ever represent Minnesota.”
The Gophers first announced a one-day halt to practice Monday night before formally shutting down the team the next day. The team announced 15 positive cases, nine players and six staff, with even more presumed positives just awaiting confirmation results.
Returning for the Northwestern game Dec. 5 is in focus, though Wisconsin and Maryland, the other Big Ten teams that have experienced outbreaks, both needed two weeks to control their spread. Beyond Northwestern, just Nebraska on Dec. 12 and a to-be-determined ninth game on Dec. 19, slated as an East-division matchup based on the standings, remain for the Gophers. The potential for a bowl game is nebulous, considering the pandemic has affected the number of games and the eligibility requirements.
Last season, Bateman caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns as part of a fierce receiver tandem with Tyler Johnson, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But in the offseason, a bout with COVID-19 gave him similar symptoms to a bad flu, with the addition of losing his sense of taste and smell. But in the six weeks Bateman was declared for the 2021 NFL draft, living off-campus in a downtown Minneapolis condo, he realized just how much he missed his team.
These past five games are likely Bateman’s last for the Gophers. And he’s made an impact on and off the field. He spoke out on social media after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer this past May and has shared his personal experiences with racism with his team. He also changed his jersey from No. 13 to No. 0 to symbolize zero tolerance for racism.
“I am excited for everything I can and will do,” Bateman wrote, “to be a positive influence in this community that has welcomed me with open arms.”