Coronavirus is not just a game changer, it’s a game ender. From the kids to the pros, all leagues in every sport have come to a halt.
Basketball fans, already having suffered a tremendous loss with the death of Kobe Bryant, have been hit particularly hard. The NBA season has been postponed with players being diagnosed with COVID-19 daily. The most recent is superstar Kevin Durant.
The men’s and women’s NCAA tournament, which would have been starting this week, has been cancelled. Our March vocabulary has changed: bracket busters, Cinderellas, and Sweet Sixteens have been replaced with social distancing, quarantines, and flattening the curve. This is the real March Madness.
The madness has not escaped this basketball fan either. Each morning, I check two .coms: CNN and ESPN. If the news is bad in one, the other may save the day. And if both are lousy I’m still entertained by a buzzer beater, poster dunk, or other jaw-dropping highlight.
Doing so serves a small, meaningful moment in my day. It’s my sports fix.
And there is value in the fix. Loving sports and admiring our heroes allows us to disconnect from life’s chaos. It allows us to focus on something with clear rules and time frames, when there may be neither in our lives.
Sports distances us from our less-than-good-news moments. Watching the games we love allows us to connect to our need to be victorious, when nobody is winning in our everyday grind.
Some have observed similarities between the current crisis and life post 9-11. The parallels exist: travel restrictions, fear, safety concerns, and more.
But the role sports played in each crisis differs.
After 9-11, sports were halted from a few days to a few weeks. When the games restarted, they had a clear beyond-the-lines purpose. In the 2001 World Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks won in dramatic Game 7 fashion over the New York Yankees. While Arizona was the World Series champion, we all reaped the benefits. We pulled for our country, momentarily distracted from our own fear, anger, and anxiety. The games were therapeutic.
In a Chicago Tribune article written after 9-11, Bonnie DeSimone wrote, “Sports, at their core, are life-affirming… The basic act of play, the pleasure we take in watching talented young men and women at play, are not things to feel guilty about even while the casualty list grows and the investigation continues.”
Sports serve to unite, connect, and distract. And we could all use some of that right now. Yet there are no games, nor people to watch them with. Even exchanging a high five in a bar with a friend over a great match-up literally can’t happen anywhere. How surreal is that?
So what is the sports fan to do in this health crisis?
First, recognize that the ball is in your hands. The coronavirus is putting on a full-court press. Your game plan needs to change. In this moment, own the ball and your own psychology.
Take this as an opportunity to channel your competitiveness into non-sports related activities with your family: play your favorite family game or make some arts and crafts like LeBron James or Zion Williamson. Meet some of your own fitness goals, in your own home gym.
Do something to thank or help those working on the new front lines of this crisis: health care providers working with high-risk populations, or police or military keeping our communities safe. Write thank you cards or make a donation to a charity relevant to the health crisis.
Confront what sports may be distracting you from in a direct way. For some of us, sports moves us away from deeper discussions with our loved ones. Typically, there is always another game to watch. During these unprecedented times, listen to your family, talk with them about their plans and fears. Connect in non-sports watching ways.
Finally, do your part to keep your family and community safe. Stay home, avoid crowds, avoid contact, wash your hands. Offer to go grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. These may seem like small responsibilities, but each of us has a role in flattening the curve.
If you ever believed in teamwork this is the time to step up. You and I–we are in this together.
And for you basketball fans, there will be more brackets.
For now, let’s pull for this virus to get busted.
Aaron B. Rochlen is a licensed psychologist and professor of educational psychology in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.