For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic hit home Tuesday. In the process, it delivered a searing indictment of this nation’s failure to effectively respond to the disease.
The Pac-12 Conference — which includes the University of Washington and Washington State University — announced that its schools will not play football or other fall sports this year. The Big Ten Conference did the same, and other conferences are likely to follow. The likelihood is that there will be no college athletics until 2021 — and even that might be wishful thinking.
In the end, they are merely games. The impact is trivial compared with the COVID-related deaths of more than 160,000 Americans, including 42 in Clark County. Loved ones have been lost, the economy has been devastated, the health care system has been strained — and there is no end in sight.
Yet despite the disruption of daily life over the past five months, there is something visceral about the postponement of college football. Although it was unlikely that fans would be in the stands, there still was hope that Saturdays filled with televised games would provide a much-needed distraction from the pandemic.
Alas, we collectively are reaping what we have sown. While sports such as March Madness basketball, the start of baseball season and the Olympics were canceled or postponed, and while professional basketball and hockey went on hiatus at the start of the pandemic, it once seemed inconceivable that football would be delayed. After all, we had six months to figure out the disease.
Instead, this nation has been hampered by a see-no-evil response from the federal government. Remember, President Trump insisted: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
That was in February. This week, as the prospects for college football dimmed, Trump said, “These football players are very young, strong people. Physically they’re in extraordinary shape. So they’re not going to have a problem. . . . I think football’s making a tragic mistake.”
Instead, the schools are working to prevent a tragedy. Several universities have reported cases of myocarditis — a rare heart inflammation that could be linked to COVID-19 — in college athletes. Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a University of Washington team physician, told The Seattle Times: “It has really raised a concern within the medical community that there’s just a lot of unanswered questions that we need to learn more about as we think about sports.”
Those unanswered questions leave schools with no choice but to postpone athletics, providing another disruption to our daily routine. They also raise doubts about the prospects of the National Football League starting its season as scheduled in September.
Again, all of this is secondary to the broader concerns about public health and the maddening persistence of COVID-19 in this country. While other nations that enacted stringent shutdown orders in the spring are starting to emerge from the pandemic, the United States has the world’s highest number of infections and deaths.
And still we are arguing about opening schools and wearing masks and protecting our personal freedoms.
Those absurd arguments are endemic of a massive national failure to understand and respond to the coronavirus pandemic. With the cancellation of the college football season, we have experienced another disappointing yet inevitable result of that failure.