GELFAND: COVID-19 -- It's Worse Than You Thought

Please Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

I like to think that my life as a journalist, horse player, football prognosticator, depressive, political junkie, occasional user of recreational drugs (long ago, so long ago), radio second-banana and victim of a moderate obsessive-compulsive disorder have provided me with an insight into the human condition.

Over the bumpy and improbable course of six decades, a lot of people have shared pieces of their lives with me.

I might be projecting here, but one of the most important things I’ve learned is that, increasingly, we have become creatures who take shelter in a bubble. Chances are that customers of this site have chosen to view much of their lives from within the bubble of sports.

It’s not a bad choice. It’s a bubble that shields us from the unbearable truth of a cruel and diseased world in which many of us find our lives increasingly and almost daily diminished. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that it’s been just over 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people and W. B. Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” which has to be one of the most quoted poems of all time.

“The best lack all conviction,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some of you like to bet on games. Others may love to crunch numbers and speak the language of analytics. Most of you are probably passionate fans. Whatever it is, it probably is healthier than alcohol or crack or a cult that demands your complete fealty to what we used to call a public servant.

The Germans, who have words for everything, have coined one that could be seen as especially relevant to this discussion: weltanschauung. It means the lens through which you view the world. If your view is from the happily warped lens of sports, you belong to a community, one with whom you share a special vocabulary. You probably have at least one fantasy team, although the fantasy might seem very real. It sure as hell beats being in a cult that celebrates a world leader as a near-immortal who has been not so much elected but anointed by God.

The Coronavirus, as many have recently observed, belongs to no bubble, nor conspiracy theory, and sure as hell to no one’s fantasy. But it’s a rare example of professional sports abandoning sheer greed and instead helping a lot of us to understand the existential threat to our lives and our economy and, yeah, even our fantasies.

Things are moving so fast and so awful that it seems like a long time ago that Rudy Gobert, the dangerously fatuous Utah Jazz center, became one of the most famous people in our country to contract the virus. (Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were in Australia at the time.)

Actually, it was just last Wednesday, but it’s hard to know what day it was and what day it is after Gobert’s revelation was followed by a massive shutdown of the global sports industry. Boom! went major league baseball, the NCAA basketball tournament, hockey, golf, tennis, soccer and…pretty much everything.

Mar 13, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; A poster of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) hangs near an empty main entrance at Vivint Smart Home Arena, where the Utah Jazz would have hosted the New Orleans Pelicans, following the suspension of the NBA season after two Jazz players tested positive for the coronavirus. Please Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

What the hell was going on? Was it that bad?

The answer became clear, and it was one we might have suspected even before COVID-19. It’s worse than you thought.

The dominoes fell more slowly after a few days, but the epidemic didn’t stop for a minute. Not a lot of silver linings behind this black cloud, but the one that stands out for our purposes is that the robber barons of sport had actually reacted to a crisis not with denial but with a healthy example in a very unhealthy time.

Sure, they were mostly just protecting their investment, but who was protecting our investments?

Sadly, we soon learned that propaganda had prevailed over prevention. As my fingers hit the keyboard, about 250,000 people in South Korea have been tested, with more than 8,000 cases confirmed and 72 deaths. But xenophobia prevailed here; like our health care system itself, our method of testing had to be different from everyone else’s and it turned out that our system was kinda messed up.

We couldn’t catch up and now it’s too late. Our population is about 6 and 1/2 times the size of South Korea’s, but we’ve tested perhaps 20,000. That means that our hospitals will be overwhelmed, as will our emotions. The toll will be staggering because there were so few methods of prevention.

Just in Minnesota, the number of confirmed cases went from 19 to 35 over the weekend. That’s one hell of a trend.

It seems trivial and selfish to ponder the fate of our favorite teams, but epidemiologists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the Trump administration’s most visible Coronavirus expert, warn that we are a long ways from this scourge’s peak. Again, the national trend: a week ago 490 confirmed infections and 19 deaths; now more than 3,000 infected and 61 dead.

So it’s going to be a long time before pro sports return. Maybe baseball comes back after what would have been the All-Star break. Maybe we get an abbreviated NFL season. The NBA playoffs? Unlikely.

The idea of thinking about death instead of sports is, well, unthinkable. But nothing is shielding us now and instead of thinking about whether your pick is still alive in your brackets, you might find yourself thinking about simply staying alive. Better yet, you might think about what it takes before our leaders rise to the level of our sports magnates.

I’m telling my friends that I’ve canceled my Tinder dates and will shift from sports betting to posting videos of my cat on TikTok.

But I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I do know that a lot of people are going to die and many more are going to go broke or go crazy. That’s what happens when the bubble bursts.

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