Officials leave the court before an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz was postponed in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.(Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP)



For many of us over the last month or two, the term “coronavirus” has been humming along somewhere between the fronts and backs of our brains.

It felt far away at first, then closer, but still not altogether present — an abstraction, a thing we weren’t quite sure how to mitigate in the context of daily lives and routines.

Wednesday, then, felt like a huge pivot point in an abstraction suddenly feeling very much more real — and sports, as they often do, played a significant role.

It is probably not great when we realize how many cues we take from sports and what a major part of society they are — having some years ago jumped from the category of pleasant temporary distractions to all-consuming escape mechanisms.

But if that’s what it takes to get us all to at least pay more attention, in a big-picture way instead of just a personal way, to a global health pandemic … then so be it.

One by one Wednesday, the announcements came.

The NCAA decided to hold all of its events — including the men’s basketball tournament and the upcoming wrestling tournament in Minneapolis — without fans.

The NBA suspended its season abruptly after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive.

You can barely go 15 minutes without another update, alteration or cancellation from around the globe, including the World Cup ski event that was supposed to happen here next week but has been called off now.

Until Wednesday, if you’re like me at least, you were probably reading a fair amount about COVID-19 and doing the basic things like taking extra care with hand washing or sanitizing. Maybe you had crossed a few places or events off your list or even had to alter some travel plans.

But people have a hard time conceiving of things that haven’t happened before — at least not on a certain scale or to and around them personally.

Even if a lot of what happened Wednesday in sports falls under the “abundance of caution” category, it was dramatic enough to send a signal to many of us: This is serious.

We shouldn’t panic, become overly stressed or stay up glued to Twitter all night instead of sleeping because, of course, all of those things can weaken our immune systems.

But we need to take this coronavirus seriously — a lot more seriously, at least, than we treat the outcomes of games.

If hitting pause on or altering some of our endless distractions can slow or even halt the spread of a virus that is particularly dangerous to those most vulnerable, history will clearly show who was on the winning side of these decisions.

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