A few weeks ago, a photo circulated of a packed Japanese soccer stadium where fans sat in neat rows, looking out onto the field and appearing mesmerized with the game happening down below. The spectators were of different ages. Some wore red, others wore black and one young boy donned a bright blue rain jacket. But besides for their love of soccer, the spectators all had one thing in common — masks.
Since that photo was captured, the situation has changed significantly. COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has killed, infected and quarantined thousands of people as it has spread geographically and intensified within several regions across the world.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic. Later that day, the NBA suspended its season following a positive test from Jazz center Rudy Gobert. On Thursday, the Pac-12 suspended its men’s basketball tournament after the first day of play, while Cal Athletics applied the same guidance, canceling all events. The NCAA announced that its annual men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments would be canceled and professional sports leagues including the NHL, MLS and MLB all released statements either canceling or delaying their seasons for the time being.
The decisions from these athletic organizations carry a significant amount of weight, affecting many people and having large economic implications. But while we process the ramifications of such decisions, we cannot possibly be upset with the decision-makers in a time like this.
Don’t get me wrong — I feel sad. I cannot begin to imagine being a senior on a basketball team that was set to make a run for an NCAA championship. But the decision to cancel the tournament was not a decision made with concern for fans’ or players’ emotions or reactions. It was for the health and safety of our communities.
To the senior collegiate athletes whose final seasons are being suspended or canceled, to programs that will graduate their best class in a decade this year: Decisions collegiate and professional sports committees are making don’t mean the world is pitted against you. If anything, the world is trying so hard to stand by you and empathize with you. While we can’t do it physically, we grieve with you. These decisions aren’t about any one person’s career or one person’s safety, we have to think of everyone.
It’s in our nature, as a society, to be together. We want to experience things as a collective and we find value in doing so. In limiting attendance at sporting events, we have lost the ability to physically gather together. And in canceling sporting events entirely, which appears to be the current plan of action, we have lost events that can unite us even remotely.
We have been told about the tradeoff — we can experience group events and risk spreading the virus, or practice social distancing and decrease the risk of spreading the virus. Many of my fellow March Madness lovers and I are not public health experts, but I think it’s in our best interest to accept the words of the wise. In hindsight, it will be clear what the right course of action was. But for now, while uncertainty clouds the air and regions go into lockdown, there are no grounds to debate the rightness or wrongness of such decisions, especially when we are not experts on infectious disease. We instead ought to apply similar precautions to other parts of our lives, recognizing the gravity of these decisions and the implications they impose.
Frankly, parts of me used to like cancellations. Life seemed so busy. I appreciated unexpected downtime, whether it was a canceled lecture or a postponed event — it felt like a breath of fresh air. But I wish now, more than ever, that every event and every gathering was fully on. I wish people could congregate and hug without the phrase “social distancing” being muttered, that we could go to a lecture hall and learn, that we could watch sports in packed arenas or watch a packed arena from within a restaurant overflowing with people.
But tomorrow will come. As dark and gloomy as this storm seems, it bears remembering — the sun will once again shine. One day we’ll once again be part of a crowded stadium cheering alongside people we don’t know, but cheer with us. One day we’ll be at a concert swaying next to bodies we don’t know, but bodies that sway with us. One day, perhaps, we’ll find ourselves in that Japanese soccer stadium maskless and together, sharing in the captivation of the game. Whenever that day comes, we’ll appreciate it and we will value it more than we ever have before.