Dick Vitale: Coronavirus 'bigger than sports,' urges politicians to put lives first
Longtime ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said the initial shock of the 2020 NCAA tournament being canceled left him despondent.
Then Vitale said he quickly became grounded in the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic that's prompted all NCAA spring sports to be canceled and pro sports leagues to be put on hold.
"I love March and college basketball as much as anyone. But what's going on is bigger than sports," Vitale told USA TODAY Sports by phone. "When peoples' lives are at risk, basketball goes on the backburner. Initially, I thought postponing the NCAA tournament made more sense. Those three weeks, there's no greater time in sports for mom, dad, grandma and grandpa. But at the end of the day, we're dealing with an infectious disease. I said to myself, 'My friend, you love basketball. But you love people more.'"
Vitale is 81 and his wife, Lorraine, is 75. He said he's aware of how at-risk he is for COVID-19. "As senior citizens, we have to be careful. I've been practicing social distancing and washing my hands regularly. This is a scary, scary time," he said.
Vitale has been quarantined with his wife in his Bradenton, Florida, home and has only left the house to play singles tennis. He's concerned that federal guidelines could be lifted too soon, not leaving enough time for specialists and the public to contain COVID-19.
"There are politicians worried about the economy, and I understand that because no one wants to be out of a job," Vitale said. "But the economy should never come at the expense of people's lives. Seniors should not have to sacrifice for the economy. I want to live, man. My wife wants to live, man.
"To the political leaders, forget liberal, conservative, this is not about political agendas. We need to keep the (guidelines) in place."
Vitale hosts an annual Gala to raise funds for the V Foundation and pediatric cancer research. He'll invite celebrity sports figures, with Dabo Swinney attending last year. Vitale moved the Gala, usually held in May, to September.
Vitale said it's his perspective on cancer that's helped him take coronavirus seriously.
"My heart breaks for people out of jobs or for some of the senior college basketball players who didn't get to go dancing in the NCAA tournament," Vitale said. "You look at a team like Dayton — that was a once-in-a-lifetime team. Kentucky's always going to have teams that can go to the Final Four.
"But saying all that, I will say if that's the worst thing that's going to happen in some of these kids lives, then they're living one super good life."