On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Of course, well before that official label was bestowed upon it, the pace of this thing had been accelerating, as it rippled through the world, from China to South Korea to Italy to Iran to various regions of the United States.Areas with outbreaks like in Seattle, Washington and Westchester, New York were nervous, a number of Universities announced that they would be temporarily moving to online learning and would cancel in-person classes, people began doing their “apocalypse shopping” and starting to hoard Purell, toilet paper, masks, and disinfectant, world markets were heading downward, and large events and conferences were starting to cancel. Yet still, for a lot of people, the degree to which life in a COVID-19 world was going to be different was still very abstract.
On Wednesday evening, things got real. And it happened real fast.
Oddly, the first proverbial shoe to drop was Tom Hanks. Yes, that Tom Hanks. In a surreal Facebook post, the renowned and beloved actor shared that he and his wife had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Just as we were digesting this news, almost simultaneously, there was odd news out of the NBA. The tip-off of the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz game was for some reason delayed. Something was going on. Ultimately, the game was canceled and fans were asked to leave the stadium, after it was discovered that Utah Jazz All-Star Center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.
Before that, the NBA had been in high level discussions among owners about playing games in arenas without fans for some time. Immediately following the news about Gobert, the NBA suspended their season. Teams were quarantined and tested. Fans were shocked. Commissioner Silver has announced that the suspension will last for at least 30 days.
The rapid pace of disruption continued and accelerated on Thursday, leaving us in an absolutely unprecedented place.
At home, local elementary and high schools began announcing closures, numerous corporations and businesses announced remote work arrangements, and museums closed.
Even DisneyLand announced that it would shutter its park.
In the world of sports, each of the major sports leagues and events toppled like dominoes.
Major League Baseball, with Spring Training underway and the season weeks away, announced that it would be suspending Spring Training and delaying the start of the season by two weeks. For now.
As certain cities, including San Francisco and NYC, put in place regulations banning large gatherings of over 500 or 1000 people, the lights went down on Broadway, with Broadway shutting down indefinitely starting at 5 PM.
The National Hockey League shut down.
Major League Soccer shut down.
The ATP Tour canceled all tennis matches through the end of April.
Even the XFL shut down.
Finally, the NCAA, which had been holding out hope that it could play its March Madness College Basketball Tournament in empty arenas as a coronavirus contingency plan, announced that it was canceling March Madness entirely. (Their decision was helped along by the NBA cancelation and by colleges like Duke and Kansas telling the NCAA they were voluntarily withdrawing from the tournament.)
View this post on Instagram
We’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s almost impossible to believe that all this happened in a period of 24 hours.
Remember when we still had the NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA, along with a healthy Tom Hanks?
It was a long time ago yesterday.
— Chris Dixon (@cdixon25) March 12, 2020
But it did.
And so here we are. And here is an unfamiliar and scary place. Mostly, because we don’t know what to expect or what will happen next.
We’re not used to dealing with events that are non-linear where the numbers of people who get sick can change exponentially.
It is absolutely surreal to watch this virus ripple out and swallow up literally everything about our normal day – getting up and going to work or school, gathering with friends to go to the mall or to a concert or a ballgame or a play, watching NBA basketball or March Madness.
This it leaves us with a number of questions about the world of sports.
Like, what the heck will ESPN show on television?
What about all the people who work in stadiums, restaurants, sports bars, or sports media?
There are – of course – some clever and creative suggestions on Twitter:
“With no live sports, I demand that ESPN go back to its roots and air wall-to-wall reruns of late-90s World’s Strongest Man competitions.”
Magnus Ver Magnusson we need you now more than ever
— Barry Petchesky (@barry) March 12, 2020
Joking aside, these restrictions are more than an inconvenience for many people and – as we all know – the issue is much larger than an issue for the world of sports. This is a global issue that cuts across everyone’s lives; lives that have changed drastically in just one day.
One thing we have to realize is that all of these leagues (and schools and businesses) are taking these unprecedented actions – and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the process – in coordination and at the advice of public health officials, because these actions are essential to save lives. Some may continue to want to believe that “we’re overreacting” or “this isn’t a big deal.” The events of the past day show that is just plain wrong. As Good Morning Football host, Kyle Brandt said, don’t be a Corona Tough Guy. They are out there! Instead, let’s do what we can to keep us all healthy and safe.
In addition, as anyone who has been watching the market the past few days can tell you, there is going to be some serious short-term economic pain. Beyond the stock market, the larger problem for many is how they will make a living if this shutdown continues. While star athletes and white collar workers are in a position to weather the economic storm caused by all these shutdowns, that’s not the case for a great many people.
Times like these call for a heavy dose of caring for our fellow man and generosity of spirit. We should follow the example of Cleveland Cavaliers Forward, Kevin Love, who today announced that he was pledging $100K for arena workers who will be out of work. Or Dallas Mavericks Owner, Mark Cuban, who announced that he would continue to pay his hourly workers during the shutdown. As Love said in an Instagram post announcing the initiative:
Be kind to one another. Be understanding of their fears, regardless if you don’t feel the same. Be safe and make informed decisions during this time. And I encourage everyone to take care of themselves and to reach out to others in need — whether that means supporting your local charities that are canceling events, or checking in on your colleagues and family.
This is way bigger than sports. As is making sure we take care of ourselves, our friends and our families through this bizarre moment in history.
Sports is supposed to be our outlet from what goes on in the “real world”. When the real world and sports collide like this, it is just so surreal and crazy….. I am left stunned by it all.
— Tom Kosensky (@mryclept) March 12, 2020
As for the sports piece of this, losing our sports – BOOM just like that – does hurt. Sports provide a daily escape from our lives and a special form of entertainment. For many, sports connect us as fans and give us an incredible daily array of topics to debate and moments to enjoy.
The hard reality of today is that we’re going to be without our sports for some time. We’re going to have to go for a while without the crack of the bat, the highlight reel dunks, and the adrenaline rush of that upset at the buzzer.
But, as my mom says, all things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We will get through this. It’ll all be back. We will all Sports together again.
Hang in there, folks.
Photo Credit: Author