In the wake of the coronavirus, sports are not the priority

MLB has canceled the rest of spring training and moved the season back in response to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Michael Malone’s comments perfectly highlighted the absurdity of the situation. Two minutes into his press conference, which was taking place just moments after the NBA had postponed the season indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Denver Nuggets coach decided to talk about the game his team just lost.

“I’m still really upset with the loss,” Malone said. “First and foremost, our jobs. What we get paid to do. The turnovers ... Not happy we lost, not happy with how we lost.”

It was in that moment, as Malone was critiquing his team about a 113-97 loss the the Dallas Mavericks, that it became clear sports do not matter right now. 

A coach chiding his team about turnovers carries no significance when all people care about are the health and safety of their loved ones. Those comments serve as a stark reminder that, of the things that are important in the world — family, friends, community, life — sports should rank low.

A number of other sports leagues have followed the NBA’s example and come to the same conclusion. MLS, NHL, Serie A and multiple college basketball tournaments — including the ACC, Big Ten and SEC — are among the biggest sports leagues to postpone events.

After initially trying to hold out, Major League Baseball and the NCAA tournament eventually followed suit. MLB waited until games had already started Thursday before announcing the remainder of spring training had been canceled and the start of the regular season had been delayed. There have been confirmed cases of the coronavirus in both Arizona and Florida, where major-league spring training takes place.

The PGA Tour canceled The Players Championship Thursday night after a full round of golf, while NASCAR still intends to race this weekend in Atlanta with no fans in attendance.

Why did it take so long for leagues to follow the NBA?

The reasons for those leagues continuing as normal — or, in MLB’s case — allowing games to take place Thursday — are unclear. Are they hesitating due to logistics? Profit? Stubbornness? Whatever the case may be, those leagues have made athlete and fan safety a secondary concern. The health of others is not the priority. 

But Rudy Gobert proved one athlete can put an entire league — and its fans — at risk, and that proved too much for most of the holdouts.

How will fans cope without sports?

If NASCAR and UFC (another holdout as of now) follow suit, sports fans are now looking at a scenario where there will be no live sporting events for the next couple weeks. Given that there are no definitive timetables in place regarding a vaccine, it could be months before sports returns to everyday life.

Though that is the right move, the absence of sports will be felt by many fans. Sports are often viewed as a distraction from the everyday horrors of the world. Those lines have been blurred more and more in recent years, but they still exist. After a rough day at work, or after receiving unfortunate news, people have always been able to turn to sports as an escape. It’s entertainment, but it’s also a coping mechanism.

Adjusting to life without sports will be difficult for many. There are other distractions in place — television shows, movies, board games, books, etc. — but few of those carry the universal appeal of sports. It’s far easier to talk sports with a complete stranger than it is to bond over a book they’ve never read.

And yet, we can live without sports. The amount of damage that will be prevented by discouraging large gatherings will be massive. Considering the size and scope of the coronavirus pandemic, canceling sporting events will save lives. You can still be disappointed your favorite team won’t be playing games in March, but the tradeoff is well worth it.

That will make the next couple weeks more challenging, but it shouldn’t allow us to lose sight of what’s important. Right now, that’s taking whatever steps are necessary — including postponing sports — to keep those around us safe.

Once we ensure that, it will be far easier to care about how many turnovers a team allowed in a loss.

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