There are important things for this country to think about, as we’ve been thinking for the past four days.
That doesn’t mean sports is the most important one — health, security, education, jobs, family and human response are all important. But sports clearly is important, a catalyst in our shared culture, a part of the world that doesn’t affect everyone as we face coronavirus and try to minimize its toll on all those other things listed above.
Personally, I’ve been in a sports bubble since Wednesday, one that stretched from Tuscaloosa to Nashville and back, because it’s my job to be in that bubble, to let people knows what is happening inside it and, when time allows, to reflect on what it means.
So when the cancellations came in, or the positive tests, into that sports part of the world, the filter through which many readers see the world, or the place where people go for refuge from the “real world,” it mattered.
That’s all a preface to say the current shutdown of sports — University of Alabama sports, certainly, in this column, but also Stillman College and Shelton State, high schools or just that spot on the couch that is annually reserved to watch March Madness or The Masters as a rite of spring — deserves the best coverage we can give it. A preface like this won’t be necessary on every column going forward, but needed to be said once.
Thinking more calmly than the news has allowed for a few days, one thing above all others now stands out about Alabama’s sports year. There was no sense of closure, or such closure as there was seemed forced, like the endings composed for Schubert’s unfinished Symphony No. 8 or Billy Budd or The Mystery of Edwin Drood. That began in football, a season which in no way resembled the vision that most Alabama fans had last August.
The best-laid plans of mice, men and even legendary coaches go awry with injuries, and Alabama isn’t the only program that has had the narrative of a season or even a game defined by who could play and who couldn’t.
But it’s hard to think the single image that will be branded onto memories from the season came on an afternoon in Starkville when Tua Tagovailoa’s season came to a halt — a single moment, still hard to watch, when his college career was over before Alabama fans were ready to let it go.
That was painful, and the rest of the season, a loss at Auburn and a win over Michigan, was a discordant coda. But it’s also the nature of sports, played out over and over, and something that fans are mentally equipped to handle, even with its accompanying heartache.
This heartache is different. Athletes who are able and ready to play —the men’s basketball team was actually in uniform and preparing to warm up before being told that the season was over an hour before tip-off — have been told that they cannot. There is no closure for the Alabama softball and baseball and golf teams, just speculation about what might have been. The same is true for basketball teams at Kentucky or Dayton — when will the Flyers be able to assemble a team like this again? — and on every other campus in America.
Tuscaloosa, and the state, are particularly attuned to college teams. The fan base is even prepared, with a few poorly-adjusted exceptions, to accept the verdict of defeat and look to the next year.
But how does one handle seasons that end in limbo? That’s the next philosophical question to be answered.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter, @cecilhur