Max Marcovitch: Is it wrong to care about sports right now?

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 7:20pm

The entire sports world, from the NCAA to all the professional leagues, has halted in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The entire sports world, from the NCAA to all the professional leagues, has halted in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Evan Aaron

Thursday, New York City declared a state of emergency to fight a global pandemic; the Dow dropped 10 percent, its worst single-day drop since the crash of 1987; millions of Americans are indefinitely hunkered down in self-quarantine; Donald Trump said domestic travel could soon be curtailed; and colleges stopped playing sports for awhile.

One of those plainly doesn’t belong with the others, and yet it will be the subject of this column because, well, this is The Michigan Daily sports section — and because I’m confused as hell. We all are. 

The NCAA released a statement Thursday afternoon confirming what had rapidly become inevitable: The NCAA Tournament will not happen, nor will the remainder of winter or spring sports.

“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”

The NCAA joined all the professional leagues (sans NASCAR and the PGA Tour) in shutting things down for now. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel released a statement shortly after Emmert’s:

“Today we took the unprecedented and proactive decision to suspend intercollegiate activities to protect the health and well-being of our student-athletes, staff and community members,” Manuel said. “This decision reached in collaboration with the Big Ten conference and campus leaders, was reached after thorough discussion and was necessary given the magnitude of this global issue. The hard work and dedication of our student-athletes, coaches and staff is a source of inspiration for so many. So, too, will be our response as we confront this global pandemic.”

This, of course, really sucks.

The NCAA Tournament is my favorite sporting event of the year. I was downright giddy to go cover the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. But there’s no debating these details anymore. Cancel everything, sports being the low-hanging fruit. As men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard put it in a statement: “Some things are bigger than basketball.”

That’s not the question worth considering anymore. There was one right answer; the NCAA, the Big Ten and Michigan — belatedly — made it.

But is it wrong to bemoan the premature ending to the careers of Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson, the two winningest men’s basketball players in Michigan history? Is it insensitive, amid economic chaos and worldwide panic, to feel cheated we don’t get to see if the Michigan baseball program can build on last year’s success? A year of Carol Hutchins’s illustrious career, her 36th, flushed away? What about Mel Pearson’s suddenly red-hot team, stomping its way into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals? Kim Barnes Arico and her short-handed, resilient squad? And those Michigan wrestlers who sacrificed everything, redshirted the season, just to take their shot at an Olympic games that might no longer happen? 

Is it wrong right now, amid a world bursting at its seams, to care about sports? Can we truly compartmentalize these myopic misfortunes with the broader disaster?

Sports exist as a respite from the real world, and when that respite disappears, our daily lives suffer. The disappearance of sports, more than anything, will symbolize a disruption to structure and consistency. When that erodes, our morale will drop, our sense of collectivity will slowly dissipate, our mental health will deteriorate. None of that should be diminished.

We are entering uncharted territory, a world in which we confront how deeply ingrained the culture of sports is in the ethos of this country — how much sports really do matter. I’m not sure we are completely prepared to discover that answer.

There are, to be clear, issues far more pressing right now — issues of life and death. Things are about to get much worse before they get any better. It appears we are entering an economic tailspin. Cases of COVID-19 are exploding by the day. The response at this point is reactive rather than proactive. And this country is still run by a narcissistic, incompetent human. Which is to say: These are truly terrifying times. I am scared. And in the grand scheme of those worries, not being able to watch an NBA game on a random Tuesday night is an inconsequential price to pay.

I don’t know whether it’s wrong to care about sports right now. But I sure know I’m going to miss them.

Marcovitch can be reached on Twitter @Max_Marcovitch or via email at maxmarco@umich.edu