The last week feels like it’s been a whirlwind. It’s a frightening time, too. 2020 does not seem to be our year.
Shortly after turning from 2019 to 2020, we watched on the news as a cluster of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases around the world quickly turned into what the World Health Organization (WHO) classified as a global pandemic on Wednesday, March 11.
Now, it has shaken the very core and nature of the North American sports landscape. Sports is a vehicle to bring people together, from a wide variety of avenues, but shortly after the WHO identifying the Coronavirus as a global pandemic, leagues and organizations in the United States started to move quickly to keep the masses from entering enclosed stadiums. The NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and NCAA March Madness all postponed or cancelled their respective seasons and schedules within a 24-hour period, pulling out all the stops to contain the spread of the coronavirus. This is unprecedented, uncharted territory. There hasn’t been a time in history sports, in general, have just halted in a matter of 48 hours. As of Thursday afternoon, two NBA players tested positive for coronavirus, both of who play for the Utah Jazz. No NHL, MLB or MLS players have yet been reported to have coronavirus, but the message across the sports world is clear: We are not taking any chances. Communities across the nation are struggling to contain the virus as venues shut their doors and athletes suddenly find a void where games should have been, empty seats where spectators and droves of cheering fans normally are present. While professional athletes will have a hiatus away from the respective games they love, some collegiate athletes may not be so lucky. The NCAA has cancelled remaining winter and spring championships. No Final Four, women or men’s, no college world series, nothing. I cannot begin to imagine the position they must have been in, but the NCAA did announce Friday afternoon they will grant an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes who participated in spring sports.
This wave of cancellations and postponements not only affects the teams and the fans, but also everyone who either works at or relies on the various arenas and stadiums to be open across the country. From concessions to security to janitorial and front office. Parking structures, restaurants, hotels too. Many of those, particular who work hourly wages at stadiums themselves, could potentially suffer for however long this crisis lasts. Lives, and livelihoods, have been turned upside down in the blink of an eye. So many Americans are suddenly faced with tougher realities than they ever expected to battle.
That being said, team owners such as Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, said he wants to make sure the team employees and people who work at the Mavericks’ home arena, American Airlines Center (also shared with the NHL’s Dallas Stars), are provided for in the coming days and weeks. It would be a welcoming sign to see owners step up at a time of great need and help those around them. It takes a village to run an organization and none of it happens without commitment from all levels.
Does this suck? Yes. Yes it does very much. Sports is one of the biggest influences in my life. I’ve loved sports since I was a young child and, for the sports world to come to a screeching halt, it’s difficult to process. Nothing similar has ever happened in my lifetime and maybe not in yours, either. I’m just trying to wrap my head around what SportsCenter will look like or what ESPN Radio/CBS Sports Radio will sound like for at least the next two weeks. There are some individuals out there who probably think we have overreacted. We’ve gone too far unnecessarily. And you know what? You might be right. Maybe we’ll look back and say, “Yeah, we did overreact.” At this moment, I cannot say for sure we won’t. But it comes down to something more than that. Something larger than all of the sports out there. It boils down to a fundamental question. What’s more important? Is it more important we/I get our sports fix in and carry on like nothing is happening? Or is it more important we address and do what we can to limit the diffusion of the coronavirus as much as possible right now? There is a global pandemic taking place around us and it falls on organizations and leagues to determine what is the biggest priority. The coronavirus has tormented other Western countries and is spreading in the United States. While there is pain, confusion and even a sense of loss, the leagues and governing sports bodies have made the right call. Postpone the sports, keep mass gatherings at a minimum and let’s limit the virus where we can. Cancel if we have to, but realize sports are still going to be there when we’re ready to resume. During a public health crisis, let’s prioritize what’s most important first: health. Because without that, what do we have?
Just last Thursday afternoon, Gordon County confirmed its first COVID-19 case. Less than 24 hours later, Calhoun City Schools and Gordon County Schools released a joint statement, shutting their doors for two weeks. All athletics have been suspended until at least Friday, March 27. Like with the nation, it became a domino effect locally. This sudden change throws into limbo baseball, soccer, tennis, track and field, slow-pitch softball (Calhoun) among others. We did not desire the present situation, but here we are. So how do we get through this? How do we not only get through the sports gap, but the school one as well? The current predicament is more than just sports. Students rely on free lunches provided by schools, but multiple pantries and even some restaurants are making sure students in need are provided for (see VAC story). This sudden stoppage affects everyone, including myself. As the sports editor here at the Calhoun Times, I strive to bring you pertinent, punctual and accurate information about the local teams in this community. But now, there’s a gap. I’ll have to adjust to a new reality, just as we all will. But I’ll tell you this, we’re going to get through it. We’re in a dark tunnel right now, but there is a light at the end, and this, too, shall pass. But it only happens if we take action together. If we commit ourselves to safe hygienic practices. If we commit ourselves to the community around us. If we stay vigilant.
Bottom line: This situation is going to evolve every day. March 11-13 were already crazy enough with the number of cancellations, postponements and others of the sort. Who knows, maybe by the time you’re reading this story, some things in here may already be out of date because the situation is constantly evolving. These are decisions we should not take lightly. Years from now, we’ll look back at our choices today and be able to gauge whether we made the right call or not. One of the things that makes us human is our ability to care for one another. So let’s care for our fellow neighbors. Let’s care for our community. Let’s care for our health, so one day, we put the coronavirus on ice. Or hit it out of the park. Or posterize it with an emphatic dunk. Or bury it in the back of the net. Or blaze right on by it. Well, you get the sports cliches. But what’s not a cliche? Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Using hand sanitizer. Blowing your nose. Covering your mouth when you cough. Disinfect. Staying home when you are sick. Those plays can prevent infections and save lives, and that’s more than any jaw-dropping, last-second game winner can ever bring. Stay safe!