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The suspension of sports is no small thing

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The sports world avoided the coronavirus until it no longer could.

As of March 11, sports schedules nationwide were on go even as the virus found its way to this country. That schedule included high school sports in Johnston County, where school leaders were following the lead of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, which had no plans to suspend play.

And then a domino fell.

Utah Jazz player Ruby Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the NBA to suspend its season indefinitely. But lunchtime the next day, nearly every major sports league had halted play, including the NCAA, which canceled its men’s and women’s basketball championship and then all other sports through the end of the academic year.

In North Carolina, the High School Athletic Association quickly followed suit, making the tough decision to postpone games in all spring sports through at least April 6.

One aim of the many sports leagues was to give local, state and national officials time to learn more about the virus and how to contain it. But in swift actions over just two days, the sports we take granted were gone, and honestly, it feels weird.

In the grand scheme of things, the stoppage of sports, whether in Johnston County, the nation or the world, is of little consequence compared to the potential threat to health and human life from a spreading virus.

But neither is the suspension of sports a small thing, though I have trouble putting its significance into words.

In times of uncertainty, sports have played a comforting, reassuring role in this country.

Sports were a welcome distraction during World War II, when Major League Baseball continued play with the blessing of President Franklin Roosevelt in what became known as the Green Light Letter.

In the letter, Roosevelt underscored how important it was for Americans to hold onto some normalcy as countless families endured the draft and the day-to-day uncertainties and casualties of war.

In countless other examples, sports have helped folks cope. They’ve brought people together or given them a chance to leave their day-to-day problems at the turnstile if only for a little while.

But suddenly, large gatherings in sports arenas are exactly what the world doesn’t need right now. Again, that’s weird and unprecedented.

An unfortunate casualty in all of this is that countless high school seniors might have seen their high school careers come to an untimely end. While that’s not certain, it could happen, and that would be heartbreaking.

Given the uncertainty around the spreading virus, it’s unlikely sports will return anytime soon. When I talked to coaches after the suspension of spring sports, none knew what to make of it, and neither did I.

Americans have more to focus on than how the coronavirus virus affects the sports world, but sports are no small thing either, not for the athletes who play them and the billions of fans who watch them.

While the world waits — and perhaps waits some more — I have a newfound gratefulness for the normalcy of a Johnston County crowd at a high school game on a weekday night. And I look forward to its return.

Jack Frederick is the sports editor at the Johnstonian News. Reach him at jfrederick@johnstoniannews.com.

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