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O’Neil: The sports world halts due to pandemic, and it’s the right thing to do

College basketball tournaments across America have been canceled. (AP)

There’s a tendency in times of crisis or grief to say that this really puts sports into perspective.

I don’t think that’s accurate, though. We know where sports rank in terms of their importance. They’re games we enjoy, and while he might care too much about them and get too emotionally entangled, even the most passionate fans understand that when the clock runs out, they are just games.

What becomes clear in a crisis like the one we’re currently experiencing is that we don’t have time for our games. Not with the larger concerns of a disease that experts have said is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu with the potential to overload our local healthcare system.

So our games are stopping because of the coronavirus. This happened suddenly then all at once. It started when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday night before the Jazz were to play the Oklahoma City Thunder. The game was postponed, fans were sent home and shortly thereafter the NBA announced it was suspending operations indefinitely after the night’s games. The game between the Pelicans and the Kings didn’t even tip off as there were concerns that one of the officials had refereed a game involving the Jazz and Gobert earlier in the week.

Major League Baseball has suspended spring training and will delay the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. Major League Soccer and the NHL have followed suit. College conferences have canceled their tournaments and some schools have withdrawn from the NCAA Tournament.

This stinks. There’s no other way to put it. It stinks for the athletes who have trained for so long to be able to perform not just against opponents but in front of a crowd. It stinks for the fans who have made plans to travel to watch basketball. Or baseball. Or hockey. Heck, it stinks for people like me who think the first two days of the NCAA Tournament are the best two days of the sporting year.

But these are games, and the spread of the coronavirus poses a very serious threat to an important segment of our society. If you would like that explained further, I suggest this Medium article from Tomas Pueyo, which puts numbers to the the danger and explains – quite compellingly – why we need to do what we can, as soon as we can, to try and stop the spread of the disease. To flatten the curve, as Dr. Jeff Duchin from Public Health – Seattle & King County explained.

We know that left unchecked, this disease grows exponentially and has the capability of overloading our health-care system to the point we won’t be able to give proper care to everyone who needs it. And when that happens, the disease becomes even more lethal. It’s what happened in Italy, as detailed in this piece in The Atlantic. It’s why China had to build two hospital facilities in a little more than a week specifically to treat coronavirus patients.

We do know how to slow the spread, though. Social distancing, a concept I wasn’t familiar with prior to this month. It means limiting our social interactions. Working from home if possible and certainly avoiding the large public gatherings that occur when we watch the games we enjoy. The hope is that by halting these gatherings we can slow the spread of this disease and keep it from overloading the healthcare system.

So for now, our games stop, and I know that it’s inevitable that some people will question whether these actions are necessary. Honestly, I think it’s fair to wonder if it’s necessary and whether playing games in empty arenas would sufficiently mitigate the risk. These are opportunities that some athletes might never get back, after all, and that’s true. And that makes it sad.
But these are ultimately games that we’re talking about. At least that’s how I see it.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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