Thank you, sports, for once again doing the profoundly impactful work for which you’re never properly credited.
Thank you for shaking us out of an ignorance that can be dangerous, even fatal, and turning us toward the path of enlightenment and vigilance.
For until you stepped forward, COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, was too easily dismissed by some as a seasonal flu or denied by others as frightening enough to dramatically alter our routines.
Once you sounded multiple national alarms during a period lasting roughly 24 hours, we had to stop and listen.
The NBA initially considered playing games without fans before conceding to sanity Wednesday night and deciding to suspend its season for at least 30 days. The NHL followed suit, suspending its season “until further notice” while also considering cancellation. MLB announced a suspension of its season for at least two weeks. MLS announced Thursday it was suspending its season for at least 30 days, during which there will be ongoing consultation with its “medical task force.”
Even the NCAA opted to cancel all remaining winter and spring sports — including its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, annual festivals of money-printing that touches every pocket of the country, on the backs of unpaid student-athletes.
Thank you, sports, for informing us that a 7-foot-1 basketball player, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, tested positive Wednesday and at least one of his teammates, Donovan Mitchell, tested positive Thursday. Though we wish them a speedy recovery, we also know their condition is yet another way for sports to grab our collective collars and shout THIS IS A GLOBAL EMERGENCY!
Gobert and Mitchell — as well as Tom Hanks, remembered for many works, including the role of baseball manager Jimmy Dugan in the 1992 movie “A League of their Own" — put faces to an illness that for too many was shrouded in mystery.
Faces give us something to see, which is important because nothing seems to move us better than visuals. Optics. We as a nation have a history of being apathetic or insensitive about issues that affect real people until we can see the discomfort or obtain the knowledge that makes us question our prejudices. Jackie Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier, Muhammad Ali’s protest of the Vietnam War and Magic Johnson’s HIV-positive diagnosis immediately leap to mind.
We have for more than a century cited sports as a place we go to temporarily escape our large and small miseries, as a social opiate of sorts. While it surely serves that purpose quite well, sports also can force us confront reality.
After a weekend during which COVID-19 was discussed and its dangers deliberated by everyone from the White House to the field house, the past four days closed the debate. It is a global pandemic. No one of sound mind can build an argument against taking seriously a virus that has killed thousands around the world and is putting millions at risk in the United States.
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Sport took this illness and slammed it on our national table. It startled us. When sport retreats en masse, we all notice. We self-examine. From there, it’s a small step toward reaction and appropriate caution.
Thank you, sports, for taking the lead and showing us the way. For giving this country faces it knows, thereby at least partially personalizing a credible threat that had been ridiculed the previous week. For saving us from ourselves.