When terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers, American sports barely paused.
As ash hovered above Ground Zero, Bud Selig and Paul Tagliabue, the commissioners of Major League Baseball and the NFL, hemmed and hesitated but eventually postponed games for one week. Seven college football conferences decided to play that week, canceling only after the NFL set its precedent.
By Sept. 17, as America mourned and raged, the games played on, perhaps providing a psychic poultice of normalcy and distraction, perhaps merely affirming our addiction.
One week. That’s the longest America has willingly gone without professional games since World War I, until now. On Thursday, March 12, the sports world played freeze tag.
The avalanche of season-threatening decisions began Wednesday night, when the NBA suspended play after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for this novel coronavirus, a day after he playfully touched the microphones and recorders of a group of reporters.
On Thursday, the men’s pro tennis association announced a six-week suspension of play.
Major League Soccer, Minnesota United’s league, suspended matches for 30 days.
On Thursday the PGA called off the remaining three rounds of The Players and all events through the Valero Texas Open. The next tournament on the schedule is The Masters in April.
The NHL said it would suspend play, which meant that the Wild did not go forward with its game Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Major League Baseball canceled the rest of its spring training games and postponed the start of the regular season for two weeks.
College basketball conference tournaments fell like confetti, and then the NCAA canceled not only its basketball tournaments, but all other winter championships and spring sports as well.
NFL teams began pulling scouts off the road, and colleges began canceling pro day workouts to evaluate draft prospects.
March 12, 2020, is the day that sports stopped cold.
Except that this isn’t really about sports.
This is about American sports reflecting America’s reality, instead of serving as diversion.
It was often said, starting on Sept. 17, 2001, that sports helped our country heal, gave us a secular public space in which to gather and cheer, to honor our dead and our first responders.
On March 12, 2020, the enemy is ethereal, and palliative sports remedies will remain theoretical.
We are a nation without games, and that is how it should be, for now.
If you are complaining about the postponements and cancellations, please stop.
If you are equating this novel coronavirus to the flu, please do more or better research.
If you are struggling to envision what could happen in our country over the next month, you are forgiven, because we have not experienced anything like this since the Spanish flu killed an estimated 675,000 Americans in 1918.
What makes sports more than upright hot yoga is context and crowds. March Madness without cheering fans would be something like the NFL combine — great athletes running around in shorts in front of nothing but officials.
Sports without cheering is a beach without sand.
Miss it all you want, while accepting that packing athletes — much less fans, arena workers, cheerleaders, bands and media — into arenas and stadiums could worsen the contagion, leading to mass illness and, according to some experts, perhaps millions of American deaths.
It’s time to care more about your grandfather’s mortality than your team’s record.
Too often, sports become an obsession. I remember getting off the Green Line outside of TCF Bank Stadium the Sunday after news broke that Adrian Peterson had whipped his son with a switch, gouging his skin.
There were Vikings fans wearing Peterson jerseys, carrying switches, because why would you not find child abuse funny, especially if you can toast to it with pregame beers?
If truth is the first casualty of war, perspective is the first casualty of fandom. This is the tightrope we who love sports need to walk — between traditional passion and newfound acceptance that you can’t have athletes sharing a basketball or a locker room when lives are at stake.
Sports are important, in their way. Sport is commerce and community pride, a social ladder and an easily accessible inspiration, ever-present entertainment and a social lubricant.
Sports will always matter, but the games don’t matter enough to put Americans at risk.
We are likely entering a month or two in which public gatherings of all kinds will be banned or restricted.
We will likely see a shortened baseball season and a canceled or postponed Olympics.
Welcome to the new abnormal. Please wash your hands, and your giant foam fingers.