When the books are written about the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, it’s quite possible they will record that the moment that most startled us, that shook us out of our daydreams and showed us just how real the crisis had become was when we heard the news that the NBA was suspending its season.
Before that bombshell landed on our phones and televisions Wednesday evening just after 9:30 ET, the sports world’s response had been a patchwork of quick fixes, followed by some high-profile and gut-wrenching cancellations and postponements, along with the hopeful but bizarre compromise choice of holding spectator-less events.
But when the NBA said it was done, that there would be no more games because one of its own had tested positive for the virus, it was clear the sports world had found its voice, and so too, perhaps, a nation. Then, when the NCAA announced Thursday afternoon that it was cancelling the immensely popular men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the message was clear:
Celtics center Enes Canter offers a valuable reminder on his shoes. (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
If anyone ever questioned the power of sports in America, doubt no more. The coronavirus became real to many millions of Americans who otherwise had no direct connection to it when we started losing sports. Even if you don’t particularly care for or watch the NBA, Wednesday’s news most assuredly got your attention. And Thursday's news sealed the deal.
Sports, our great escape, has become our sobering reality. With its absence, sports is telling us that something is very wrong and it's time to take it seriously. Hopefully, as sports goes, so goes the nation.
WHAT WE KNOW: Where U.S. sports stand amid the coronavirus pandemic
It might have taken too long in some cases, and the path to get there surely was confusing and convoluted at times, but the sports world is now in the right place. Think about this: If games were going on today as if nothing is wrong, millions of us would think that they too could go on with their lives as if nothing is wrong, which we know from the magnitude of this deadly outbreak is just not the case.
Considering the appalling lack of credible information emanating from the White House, it’s not a reach to say that sports is saving the day – or at least helping to do so.
On Monday, which seems like a lifetime ago, J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of its Global Health Policy Center, told USA TODAY Sports that the public awakening about the seriousness of the coronavirus is helped along by these big, difficult sports cancellations and postponements.
“I think taking tough decisions on iconic (sports) events … are going to be upsetting to everyone for good reasons, because they're part of our identity and our culture and they're wonderful events,” he said. “So having to change that is by definition really difficult and very, very upsetting. But the more we begin to take these decisions, the more we're signaling to our public that we're entering a period of disruption and we're going to have to learn to live through it.”
It certainly isn’t going to be easy, even when it comes to giving up sports, an act that pales in comparison to the life-and-death struggles of those with the virus. Still, what has happened in the sports world the past few days is incredibly sad. Your heart breaks for the student-athletes around the nation, particularly the seniors, who likely will miss most if not all of their last opportunity to play college or high school sports.
When the Ivy League cancelled its spring sports season Wednesday afternoon, the decision seemed abrupt, even rash. By Thursday, it was prescient.
Now that the NCAA decided to cancel the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, millions of us will miss March Madness. We’ll miss the start of baseball season, now delayed by at least two weeks. We’ll miss the NBA and NHL and everything else that we won’t have. We’ll wait and see what the Masters decides, and, eventually, the Tokyo Olympics.
But we’ll know that as this dangerous virus inevitably spreads into our states, our cities and our neighborhoods, the sports world came to a stop to try to stop it. For that, history will be most appreciative.
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