For too many people, sports is a way of life.
Happiness hinges on things outside our control - the success, or lack thereof, of our favorite football, hockey, baseball or basketball team, or for others our favorite golfer. We have forgotten that sports are supposed to be fun. When we are children, sports teach values that we can control, like sportsmanship and the value of working together as a team to achieve a common goal. As we get older, they become too much about winning. For others, sports are all about money.
Need an example? Go to just about any major college campus on a fall Saturday. Go to an Eagles-Cowboys game, Yankees-Red Sox or Blackhawks-Red Wings. Or, follow Tiger around Augusta National on a Sunday afternoon. For that matter, go to a Little League baseball game, or high school football game and listen to the adults and how they chastise umpires, officials and other people's children.
As we tune in every day to listen as our respective governors and state public health officials provide updates on the COVID-19 threat, they discuss real-world problems such as overrun hospitals, temporary morgues and that many among us won't be here tomorrow. All serve as a reminder that sports are supposed to be a diversion and a source of entertainment, not life-and-death.
Before coronavirus became part of the current vernacular, who could have imagined a spring without March Madness? Since then, the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball seasons have been suspended until further notice. College football lost its spring practice season, all spring college sports have been canceled and the start of football - both college and the NFL - are up in the air. Golf tournaments are postponed or canceled almost daily leaving us looking longingly at the pro tour schedules like John Kaminski and Bruce Williams monitoring flight delays at the airport as they fall off the board.
Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in The Open. . . . We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but this pandemic is severely affecting the UK and we have to act responsibly. It is the right thing to do.
There are other things that are much more important than sports - especially now - like keeping a roof over your head, putting food on the table and worrying about who is going to be around to share the meal.
Indeed, we are navigating through uncharted territory. We know the destination, but we have no idea how or when we will arrive, or what it will look like when we get there.
When putting into perspective the threat of a global pandemic that has most of the world on lockdown, it helps to look at the history of championship golf.
In the 160-year history of the Open Championship, only three things have stood in its way - the Kaiser, Hitler and now COVID-19. Earlier this week, the Royal & Ancient officially canceled this year's Open Championship, marking the first time the tournament has not been contested since World War II (there was no tournament from 1940-45) and only the third time since 1860.
The only other time the tournament was stopped was from 1915 to 1919 for another real life-or-death situation - World War I.
Canceling this year's Open had to be a difficult decision for the R&A, but it was the right one, according to chief executive officer Martin Slumbers when considering everything involved in staging a major championship.
"Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in The Open," Slumbers said in a news release. "We care deeply about this historic Championship and have made this decision with a heavy heart. We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but this pandemic is severely affecting the UK and we have to act responsibly. It is the right thing to do.
"I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible."
With every day that passes, the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us a lot about people, what they believe is important and what is not.
Professional golf tournaments here and abroad are being postponed or canceled with regularity. The Open Championship will resume (hopefully) in 2021, the U.S. Open at Winged Foot has been moved to September, the PGA Championship has been postponed until August and just this week Augusta National announced that The Masters has been rescheduled for November.
When Golf Digest recently reported that The Memorial would go on in June at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, without spectators, the tournament director quickly refuted that story. When the tournament will be played and in front of whom has not yet been decided.
While golf (at least it appears) is taking the high road in coming back from COVID-19, the same cannot be said in some other sports.
As some of the world's leading scientists and medical experts tell us it is prudent to stay home to stop the spread of this invisible killer, there are voices in other sports that are saying "play ball".
Details were released this week of a plan by Major League Baseball to play an abbreviated schedule with all games played in Arizona without fans. According to published reports, the plan includes isolation of players and their families. During games, players would sit in the stands and not in a crowded dugout. But, since sports are about money first (or why else play a game with no fans?), what about the people in the TV truck and others needed for a professional game to be played. What about the minor league system that feeds MLB throughout the season when players are injured? How will all of these people be protected?
It's even worse in college football.
They are 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 year olds, and they are healthy and they have the ability to fight this virus off. If that is true, then we sequester them and continue, because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney makes a lot of money to win football games. And he wins a lot. Since 2008, Swinney has led his team to 130 wins and taken the Tigers to the College Football Playoff in five of the six years of its existence, winning the national championship in 2017 and 2019 and runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2020.
When asked how he thought the COVID-19 virus might affect the 2020-21 college football season, he said: "My preference is, let's get to work and let's go play. That's the best-case scenario and I think that's what's going to happen. I don't have any doubt. . . . I mean I have zero doubt that we're going to be playing. The stands are going to be packed and (Clemson's Death) Valley is going to be rocking. Zero doubt. That's the only thought I have, right there. All that rest of the stuff, I don't think about any of that."
While golf tournaments talk about safety of fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff, the guy at Clemson who earns $9 million a year says it's time for everyone else to toughen up.
Good thing he's not holding daily briefings on TV.
Swinney should be thanking Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State's mulletted head coach, who recently voiced his own opinion of the relationship between college football and the coronavirus and made the Clemson coach's comments seem benign by comparison.
"In my opinion, we need to bring our players back," Gundy said in a recent teleconference. "They are 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 year olds, and they are healthy and they have the ability to fight this virus off. If that is true, then we sequester them and continue, because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma."
Even if you don't care about other people, at least pretend that you do during a global health crisis. That will make it easier for Gundy to convince parents he has their sons' best interests at heart during the recruiting season. Otherwise, he is going to have a tough sell.
Gundy's comments make it clear that he views football players as commodities and not as people. They also show that he has little regard for all the others who make college football what it is today.
It takes more than 20-something-year-old world-class athletes to stage a televised football game or golf tournament for that matter. It takes media personnel, coaches, assistant coaches, officials, field crew and other support staff, few of whom are 20-something-year-old world-class athletes, and all of whom could be at risk.
Sports are an important part of the fabric of American culture. Whenever this is over, and none of us know when that will be, sports will be back. Everything might not be exactly the way it was before, but they will be back, and I for one will welcome that day. Until then, they are not worth dying over.