Coming to Terms with Coronavirus

A week ago I was on a train headed to Boston. I was heading to the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, but I could not escape a certain sense of dread. I had secretly hoped that the conference would be cancelled due to the coronavirus but chalked that up to seasonal depression. This time of year is always tricky for me inside my head. I told myself that getting out of town and being around some highly talented and inspired experts would be good for me, get me out of my funk. (Spoiler alert: It did not work) 

I returned Sunday even deeper in depression. I wanted to avoid everything and everyone. Monday came and the news of an outbreak at another conference in Boston gave me the excuse I needed to retreat from the world. As the world truly awoke to the looming crisis of the pandemic, all I wanted to do was sleep. The concern about possible infection mixed with my depression in a big soup of despair. By Wednesday, it was clear that I was a potential risk of carrying coronavirus. As the NBA began to seriously discuss how it would handle the crisis, I decided to not cover the morning Blue Coats game or the evening’s 76ers game. It was a rare doubleheader, and it should have brought back memories of last year’s special day at the Center in Philadelphia when Shake Milton and Haywood Highsmith both played in two games in one day. 

Good Call?

As it turns out, perhaps the games themselves should have been cancelled. The NBA world was rocked with the news of Rudy Gobert, and later Donovan Mitchell, testing positive for coronavirus. Fortunately, no one else from the organization tested positive last night. Sarah Todd, who is covering the Jazz this year after covering the 76ers beat for years, had some angst as she waited for her test results. Thankfully, Sarah tested clear.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but I’m already ready for 2020 to be hindsight. This year has been a nightmare thus far. MLB, NHL, MLS, and even March Madness have followed the NBA in cancelling or suspending their seasons. The sports world has effectively ground to a halt.

Bad Call? 

What makes this pandemic scary is how long you can be infectious before experiencing symptoms. I’d like to find the line between paranoia and naïveté. Is it okay to go into the office? Is it okay to kiss my wife goodnight? Okay to be around my kids and then let them go to work and school? The economy grinding to a halt? Is my 401k evaporating before my eyes?

What an odd feeling. As a relatively healthy person below 50, the chances of this disease being truly dangerous is really low. But then again, as a citizen of a country that is aging rapidly, it’s really scary. If the mortality rate is even 1%, the projections of 30-50% of the population creates a nearly unthinkable tragedy on so many levels.

And the residual risks of an economic collapse can be just as scary to think about. People will lose their jobs, cars, and homes even if they never get sick. Things could get really ugly over the next few months.

Where do we go from here?

I remarked earlier that the closest analog to this feeling really was 9/11. And it may not even be alarmist to say that this coronavirus pandemic could be orders of magnitude worse. But immediately after 9/11, the world was shaken. We were mostly stuck in our homes, not knowing if it was safe to be in public. We didn’t truly know if the country was safe for about 72 hours or so. And then the country took a turn to look for revenge. Nearly two decades of vengeance has followed.

With COVID-19, there will be no one to blame, no one to invade, and we won’t feel safe in 72 hours. But we don’t have to react in the same counterproductive ways. We can learn from this. More of these viruses will come; they may even come more often. This world is increasingly connected, and it is our connections as a human race that makes it so hard to stop an outbreak. But we should not disconnect.

Connection is all we have. We are humans, and we need each other. As I self quarantine in a state of depression and dread, I don’t want this for anyone else. Sports connect us, music connects us, culture connects us. Sports will return eventually. Things may never be quite the same, but we get to decide, together, what change looks like.