By the time I’m finished writing this column, it may already be dated.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020, will be remembered as the day in which North American sports met coronavirus head-on. I’m doing my best to avoid hyperbole and think outside of just my own frame of reference, but it’s hard to think of a day in which the sports world was similarly impacted.
It was all so fast and all so surreal. For a quick, but by no means comprehensive, recap: at 3 p.m. ET, the Ivy League announced it had cancelled all spring sports. One hour later, the NCAA announced that attendance at both the Division I men’s and women’s tournaments starting next week would only consist of players, coaches, essential staff and limited family members. Schools and pro teams across the country took similar steps with their own games and on-campus events.
And in perhaps the most stunning turn, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were seconds away from tipping off when news broke that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus. Shortly after, the NBA announced the suspension of the rest of the season.
I can only speak for myself here. What I say won’t apply to all people, or even all sports fans for that matter. But in the past weeks and weeks to come, all of us have had or will experience the realization that coronavirus is right next door. Two days earlier, Gobert had seemingly poked fun at the hysteria and precautionary measures by rubbing his hands all over an array of microphones at Utah’s media availability. Now he’s pro sports’ Patient Zero. Coronavirus can no longer be ignored or treated as some eerie joke. It's real. It's here.
And I have absolutely no idea what’s next.
Thursday afternoon, the Big Ten canceled its men’s basketball tournament. So did the ACC, American Athletic Conference, Big 12 and SEC. The NCAA Tournament itself — one of the most ubiquitous events in American sports — might not be any more likely to happen. It’s impossible to say with any certainty anymore.
I’m not here to tell you that the show must go on, or that everything be shut down instantly. Maybe that’s a mistake on my part. I just don’t feel like I’m in a position to offer that take. All I can confidently state is the obvious, which is that public health and safety, and limiting the spread of the virus, must take full precedence. However that plays out will be the right decision.
I realize there are far more important things to care about in a time like this. From the information available, coronavirus will not be life-threatening to the vast majority of healthy adults. That can’t be said for elderly people or people with pre-existing conditions. We all know people at risk, and the prospect of your favorite team losing doesn’t hold a candle to that fear.
But for many of us, sports provide normalcy. We wake up, put on jerseys, turn on the TV and lose ourselves in routine. If we’re privileged enough to, we can invest ourselves in our teams as a distraction. Sports are a constant, and once that constant’s no longer there, it can be terrifying. It’s jarring to realize that something as seemingly rock-solid as sports is just as tethered to reality as any other institution, and that’s why this week has hit as hard as it has. In a sense, the sweeping chances and loss of normalcy can be even scarier than the pandemic itself.
And that's why as long as sports are played, I will cover sports, as long as it does not mean an undue risk. That's my job, of course, but I do believe there can be great comfort in knowing that at least some facets of our lives might continue in times of crisis. Simply because the absence of this facet isn’t a grave absence doesn’t mean that it is unimportant. But there’s no way around it — safety has to come first, second and third, and there are very real, human stakes that needed to be put in perspective.
For now, with that perspective having just been delivered to us, we can only wait, breathe, and think a little.
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