Gov. Tim Walz's order pausing youth sports for four weeks is "not based on data or science'' and applies "favored treatment and relaxed criteria'' that let collegiate and pro sports continue, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by a group seeking to end the ban.
The nonprofit organization Let Them Play MN, which has 23,000 members in its Facebook group, filed the challenge in U.S. District Court. The order, which put sports on hold because of concerns about controlling the spread of COVID-19, is set to end on Dec. 18 unless Walz takes further action.
"Nobody wants this to run on any longer than what we have already seen,'' said Minneapolis attorney Sam Diehl, who represents the group. "What we're hearing is that there's a possibility of him extending it into the new year."
The suit, filed on behalf of five unnamed young athletes and two coaches, contends the order "unfairly singles out young people for harm.'' It takes issue with the state's use of the term "outbreak'' to help justify the youth sports ban, saying it does so ambiguously and in different contexts.
''The Minnesota Department of Health's own data shows youth sports don't spread COVID,'' said Dawn Gillman, a Dassel-Cokato football mom and founder of the Facebook group, "And making a difficult year for kids even harder doesn't make Minnesota safe, and it just isn't right.''
Efforts by the group to rally on the State Capitol grounds to protest the order, which went into effect Nov. 21, were turned down in what the suit claims was a violation of freedom of speech. It claims the state allows large gatherings in stores and other places that pose a greater risk of COVID transmission.
"They're picking and choosing the manner in which they collect data and not really defining what an outbreak means,'' Diehl said. "And they're applying a different standard to youth sports that's not supported by the risks at all."
The suit also names other state officials as defendants. Walz's office could not immediately be reached for comment.