How Do We Discuss Sports?
I started to write a post about Alan Griffin transferring. I got about six paragraphs in and was really struggling to write about it. Mostly because I don't know how to talk about sports when we don't know a return date. As of this moment, we don't really know if there will be a 2021 college basketball season, so how am I supposed to talk about the 2021 college basketball season and what the loss of Alan Griffin will mean?
I'll attempt to explain myself here. Please know that I'm not attempting to be alarmist. I'm doing that thing where I talk things out with my fingers because it's the only way to sort something out in my brain. And you get to read along as I do that.
Another note: I am not an epidemiologist, so I don't even begin to understand exactly how these things work. This is a weak way to write, but I'm just talking out loud here. Seeing how the words sound. Telling you where my brain has landed over these last two weeks.
We'll start here: I think we have to at least acknowledge that the 2021 college basketball season might not be played. I'm not trying to scare everyone, just noting that we don't really know when this might end. I've already come to grips with the fact that this college football season might not be played. I've read several articles about the Spanish Flu in 1918 and how it came roaring back in the fall and wiped out the college football season. That's obviously possible here, and when I stretch out that thought...
Until there's a treatment or a vaccine, it feels like we're constantly be at risk of a hotspot. We'll flatten the curve, and cases will be spread out over 18 months, not two months, and during those 18 months - again, without a treatment or vaccine - it feels like a shooting guard from Utah could get COVID-19 and shut down the entire Maui Invitational overnight. And then there's a hotspot in Ohio and all college sporting events are canceled in Ohio for the month of January 2021 (and so on). Maybe there's articles I'm not reading, and maybe there's some "herd immunity" thing I don't understand, or maybe there's even a treatment approved in two months and life returns to normal, but to me, I've already begun to deal with "the next event I cover could conceivably be the Nebraska game in Ireland".
I'm only basing this on articles I've read, and maybe I'm reading the wrong articles, so perhaps it's dangerous for me to speculate like this. I'm not trying to be alarmist and claim all sports are going to be canceled for a minimum 18 months. I'm just saying that when I hear them talking about possibly holding The Masters in September, I wonder how the world will have returned to a normal enough routine that a bunch of people can all gather in Augusta, Georgia without a public health risk. One asymptomatic caddy touches one flagstick and gives it to 23 people and suddenly there's a hotspot. When I look at it like that, it feels simple: no sports until a treatment or vaccine. Really hope I'm wrong (and would love for one of you who is smarter than me to tell me I'm wrong), but without one of those two things, it's hard to see an NCAA Tournament a year from today.
(Anyone hiring in Champaign? I'm joking. I think?)
This is why it's hard to talk about this transfer. I'd love to dive into "Griffin was going to step into a major role next season, perhaps even as the go-to scorer, and what do we do without him?", but right now, my brain can't see a scenario where any public health officials would allow a sporting event in the next 12-18 months (the timeline given for finding a vaccine). This is the first post I've written since the shutdown that isn't an Illini bracket and it feels a bit silly to talk about "here are the options for next season without Griffin" when I'm not sure if next season happens.
How I can write about Griffin - or any topic over the next year, really - with that thought hanging over everything? They postponed the Olympics today. The Olympics would have been going on while I'd be covering training camp in Champaign in early August. So if the Olympics are already out, college football is probably out, right? I can't figure out what they'd do when one player on one team tests positive. Everything gets immediately canceled just like the NCAA Tournament, right?
I guess I've somehow talked myself into a circle here and now the Griffin news doesn't seem so bad. If the next college basketball season is 2022, we'll have filled the Alan Griffin hole by then. See? Nothing to worry about. Don't you feel better?
I'll say one thing - this post will be a fascinating read in two years. Maybe Major League Baseball will return in May, the NBA will have playoffs in June, and sports will return to normal (which will make this post seem alarmistly alarmist). OR, sports won't have returned yet and it will seem quaint that we as a society were just starting to accept that this was going to be an 18-month layoff, not a one month layoff.
OK, now I'm a little worried about publishing this. Perhaps now isn't the time for my style of writing (stream-of-consciousness speculation as thoughts enter my brain). I'll just say it this way:
With the postponement of the Olympics today, I think that means it's likely that no sports will take place between now and then (August). I'm assuming it means the NBA and NHL will not finish their seasons and MLB will not start. Given all of that uncertainty, how am I supposed to talk about the loss of Alan Griffin on the 2021 Illini team? I read that long Coronavirus report from the Imperial College Of London and its flattened curves kept on trying to spike through the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, and when I see how a flattened curve saves the healthcare system by spreading the inevitable infections over years, not weeks, then I start thinking I won't see Illini basketball until November 2021. And when I let that thought settle in, I wonder how I could even discuss the Alan Griffin news.
Maybe I'm just way ahead of myself. Maybe I've read the wrong articles. Maybe a treatment is developed, or this "herd immunity" thing happens, or any number of things occur and I sit down in August to write four posts per day about Illini training camp. I certainly hope that's the case. Not only for sports but because it would mean that we, as a society, beat this thing.
But as each day goes by, I start to wonder more and more if we might not see any college sports for 18 months. And if that's the case, then, uh, I kinda wonder what I'm supposed to do with my life? I'm pretty good at discussing sports but, uh, what if there's no sports for a really long time?
(You know, I guess it's better to talk this out when a player is transferring out than when a player is transferring in. Can you imagine discussing this after Illinois landed two immediately eligible 5-star transfers? "We have legitimate Final Four chances next season. Wait...")
I don't really know what else to say here. Feels really dumb to even bring up BUT NO SPORTS when we're going through what we're going through. But I haven't written anything besides bracket posts because I don't know how. Seriously - how do we discuss sports?