Arizona offensive lineman Edgar Burrola, who last week was suspended for violating team coronavirus safety protocol, acknowledged to ESPN that he violated policy on multiple occasions, but said he was distrustful of the Arizona medical staff based on skepticism of the protocol the school follows as well as its handling of a 2019 injury.
Burrola, a redshirt junior from Las Vegas who started six games last season, is believed to be the first college football player to be disciplined for not adhering to COVID-19 safety measures since players returned to campuses for voluntary workouts.
He confirmed to ESPN that he broke protocol -- including showing up to the team facility without a mask and breaking a mandatory quarantine -- but also said that he was considering sitting out the season because of his concerns.
"I don't feel comfortable with the school policies, and I let my [position] coach know that," Burrola told ESPN.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said they have stressed that if players are concerned about safety, they can choose not to participate.
"Every communication that we've had with our players, whether it's in person, virtual or electronic, we've communicated with them to say, 'Hey listen, if you don't feel comfortable, you don't have to be here,'" Sumlin told ESPN. "I think that that is the biggest thing and we've told our players that."
Sumlin praised the work of assistant team physician Stephen Paul, who has been in charge of educating the team on safety protocol and managing risk mitigation as it relates to the coronavirus.
Sumlin also emphasized his concern for his entire team -- players and coaches -- citing the age of some coaches and staff members, saying that he is responsible for trying to keep them safe as the team conducts activities during the pandemic. On Tuesday, Sumlin told The Arizona Daily Star: "It's my job to protect and uphold that protocol for everybody else that's involved in this organization -- players, coaches, administrators, medical [personnel]. You've got coaches' families.
"If you're not going to pay attention to the protocol, wear a mask, all that other stuff, we just can't have you around," Sumlin told the paper.
Burrola, 21, said the suspension, which began July 22, included a reduction in his scholarship. He said he's still receiving tuition, books and fees but no longer has access to the meal plan or stipend for other incidentals.
Burrola said he owns a home and uses stipend money to help pay bills. He said he has begun working with his family's business in Las Vegas to help make up the difference.
An Arizona team official told ESPN that in a letter sent to Burrola about his suspension, the school said the reason the scholarship reduction was enacted was because it was Burrola's second suspension for violating team rules. The first suspension came in November 2019, which Burrola said was true.
Burrola said the day before his suspension he told offensive line coach Kyle DeVan that he wanted to opt out of the season because he didn't feel safe with the protocol. The school claims that Burrola told DeVan that he wanted to opt out of workouts because he didn't believe in the protocol and that he didn't feel like he needed to quarantine or wear a mask.
Burrola said that while he did indeed say that, it isn't the reason he wanted to opt out.
The dispute between Burrola and Arizona stems from a chain of events. The first, on June 30, involved Burrola entering the lobby of the football complex to pick up a grab-and-go lunch. He was without a shirt and a mask.
"I completely take accountability for it; it was my mistake," Burrola said. "It was right in the football lobby, it was grab-and-go, that's why I didn't think I needed a mask. It was my fault."
On July 7, Burrola said he was placed on mandatory 14-day quarantine after his roommate tested positive for COVID-19. He said he broke quarantine twice -- once to get food for himself and another time to help a friend move -- and he admitted it both times to the medical staff.
Arizona disputes Burrola's explanation for breaking quarantine, saying Burrola told the team doctor he was going to hang out with friends and that he shouldn't have to quarantine.
Burrola denied that account, reiterating his initial claims.
Burrola said he showed up at the facility for testing on July 20 and again entered the building without a mask. When Paul noticed Burrola was maskless, Burrola claims Paul yelled at him for not having one. Burrola said he asked for a mask but Paul wouldn't give him one.
Arizona football chief of staff Dennis Polian told ESPN that upon the team's return for voluntary workouts, all players were provided with multiple masks. Burrola acknowledged that, but reiterated that Paul would not give him one when he asked.
Polian said Paul did not yell at Burrola, but tried to have a conversation with Burrola about following protocol and to reiterate that the medical staff had spoken to him multiple times about the importance of the coronavirus safety protocol.
Burrola provided ESPN with a screenshot of an email from Paul to Burrola, dated July 24, where Paul apologized to Burrola if he "interpreted my earnest enforcement of our standing protocol for wearing a mask on campus when you entered the facility for testing."
"I was not intentionally being rude but rather forceful to remind you to comply with our policy on masking," Paul wrote in the email. "Your behavior, by not wearing a mask on our campus, in our Athletics facilities, places you, your teammates and our staff at risk of contracting coronavirus infection. Wearing a mask on campus, at athletic facilities and during all workouts is a policy."
Burrola maintained his stance, saying there were teammates who witnessed the incident.
"I mean, I don't know how I was disrespectful to him, that's a lie," Burrola said. "They might word it differently but he was yelling, and it was uncalled for. It was inappropriate, especially when I did ask for a mask.
"I'm aware of the policy. That's why I asked for a mask. I stay 6 feet apart. They can never say I'm hugging on anybody or that I'm being inappropriate."
Team officials said on multiple occasions Burrola questioned the protocol Arizona followed. The Wildcats base their safety protocol on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization and when questioned by Burrola about why Arizona established certain protocol, they directed him to those websites as well as PowerPoints that Paul presented to the team.
According to The Daily Star, Burrola occasionally has used social media to express his doubts about the severity of the pandemic. In a since-deleted tweet on May 30, Burrola posted: "COVID-19 is fake."
Asked about that tweet, Burrola told ESPN, "I think I expressed myself the wrong way."
"I think I'm misunderstood right now," he said. "What I actually meant was, like, other solutions aren't being talked about. What are we doing, basically? I don't think you can put a one-size-fits-all policy on everybody because everybody's different."
As for questioning Arizona's coronavirus safety protocol, Burrola told ESPN: "It's not that I don't believe it. The CDC website also says people who have trouble breathing with a mask should not wear masks. So, I mean, we could follow those guidelines, too. They just want to follow certain guidelines; they don't want to follow everything that the CDC says."
Asked if he has trouble breathing, Burrola said that the school issued him an inhaler and the team medical staff is aware of that.
He also questioned school enforcement of the mask policy, claiming there were employees at the Bear Down Kitchen -- where the team eats meals -- who were without masks Monday. Polian said the employees, who are outside contractors, were socially distanced so it technically wasn't a policy violation, but that after the concern was raised there were extensive conversations with the employees about wearing masks and the example they were setting.
Burrola said his distrust of the Arizona medical staff stems from what he claims was a misdiagnosis of an injury he suffered in 2019. Burrola, who played in 2019 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that occurred in 2018, said he suffered another injury to the same shoulder before Arizona's Oct. 5 game against Colorado.
Burrola claims he was told by the medical staff that it was a bone bruise and that when he asked for an MRI, they didn't deem it necessary. He said during winter break he returned to Las Vegas and got his own MRI, which revealed a separated AC joint, tendinosis and fluid in his left shoulder. He had surgery in January, without financial assistance from the school. Arizona did not respond to that claim.
Despite the dispute, Burrola said he does not wish to harm the program.
"I don't wanna fight with Arizona football," Burrola said. "I have love for everybody there. Everybody's helped me a lot. It's just this one incident that happened that's being talked about."
Sumlin reiterated Wednesday that Burrola is suspended, not dismissed from the team, and he is still enrolled in school and is on the team roster.
Asked about his future with the program, Burrola said he's undecided, but sounded hopeful.
"I bought a house in Arizona, so Arizona was always long term for me," Burrola said. "I saw myself being here a long time. But I'm just going with the flow right now. I'm just gonna see what's best for me and my family.
"I came to Arizona for a reason, but it's not the Arizona I committed to. So I'll just see how things play out. My [position] coach said he'd love to see me in a Wildcat uniform, so I hope something can be done."