The Drake Group Presidential Award was established in 2017 to honor an extraordinary
contribution by an individual or organization that has helped advance the integrity of
intercollegiate athletics through a public action that demonstrates integrity, the primacy
of educational objectives and the responsible and ethical conduct of intercollegiate
athletics as an extracurricular enterprise.
Johnasia Cash, while a senior leader of the Southern Methodist women’s basketball
team, demonstrated courage and a commitment to the ethical conduct of college sport
by refusing to sign a waiver absolving her institution of any liability for harm that could
be suffered by her related to the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked to return to campus
train during summer of 2020, she was given two options: to return with the requirement
to sign the liability waiver or not to return and take a medical hardship year. Voicing
her belief that the University was not acting in the athletes’ interests but in its own
financial interest, she asked SMU to waive the liability requirement. After being told by
the University’s legal counsel that no changes would be made to the document, she
decided once again not to sign it, even though it meant not being allowed to return to
campus with her teammates, an onerous SMU response to her thoughtful and principled
She was then offered the chance to sign another document that would have put her on
medical leave. She also declined to sign that document. Throughout her efforts to
appeal to University administrators, she asked that they put themselves in the position
of parents and challenged them to think and act as though they were putting the health
and safety of athletes above all else – to no avail. Ultimately, she decided to leave SMU
and transfer to Penn State, citing a lack of trust with the athletic department, with regard
to protecting player safety.
The Drake Group recognizes that college athletes have been given no voice in the
decisions being made about their own lives, which are being placed at risk during the
2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike professional athletes, who have unions to represent
them, most college athletes do not. They know their coaches have the power to control
scholarship awards and punish athletes in both overt and subtle ways. Understandably,
most college athletes do not have the courage to question what they are asked to do.
Johnasia did, embracing her role as a senior team leader. For these actions, The
Drake Group honors Johnasia Cash with its Presidential Award.
Cash is majoring in Recreation Park and Tourism Management at Penn State. She was
a three-year starter at SMU who played in 87 games while making 55 starts and
averaging career numbers of 7.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. As a junior in
2019-20, she led SMU and ranked 20th in the AAC with 11.1 points per game and was
third in the league with 9.4 rebounds per game.