For Bethune Cookman athletics director Lynn Thompson, the COVID-19 pandemic hit close to home.
James Anderson, Thompson’s brother-in-law, recently died of coronavirus-related complications. Anderson, who was a former BCU football player, was just 52 at the time of his death.
It was going through that personal trauma combined with the impact COVID was having at Bethune Cookman and the surrounding community that prompted Thompson to make the difficult choice to cancel all spring sports.
“The health and the safety of all of our student-athletes was priority No. 1,” Thompson said last month. “One of the other factors that we had to consider was, presently, we’re in a shelter-in-place situation on campus, and that’s for everybody. It was going to be entirely difficult for us to engage in our normal athletic activities.”
Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are surging at unsustainable levels across the country, with schools giving up on in-person classes and some governors reimposing restrictions on non-essential businesses and social gatherings.
An estimated 20 percent of all FBS games have either been canceled or postponed because of COVID-19, including five Top 25 games this weekend alone. That is separate from all the practices and workouts halted because of all the positive tests. Florida Memorial, South Carolina State, and others had to take such measures.
Florida A&M, also a member of the MEAC along with BCU, decided it would hold off on some spring sports for now.
Maybe it’s time for HBCUs — for the sake of humanity — to shut it all down.
The optics of attempting to compete in the midst of a pandemic that has infected more than 10 million Americans and killed 240,000 others are terrible.
The images of coaches and athletes wearing masks (or not wearing them properly) on the field is just as uncomfortable. Quarter-filled stadiums with fans not adhering to social distancing guidelines and screaming while maskless at a sporting event that doesn’t really matter considering the circumstances seem tone-deaf.
Sport often is used as a vehicle to provide a temporary distraction from the real world. But what do we make of it when sport only accentuates the real world?
One analysis suggested that the continuation of sports has actually contributed to the spread of the virus because fans tend to gather — often without face coverings — to watch or attend contests either inside homes or elsewhere.
The last thing this country needs is a distraction from a reality where 123,000 Americans (including college athletes) on average are being infected with a deadly virus each day and 1,100 of our friends and relatives are dying within that same 24-hour period.
But schools like the University of New Mexico are willing to place its unpaid impressionable football athletes in harm’s way by setting up shop in Las Vegas after its home state deemed it was too dangerous to hold competitions within its borders.
No one would authorize playing organized sports in the middle of rubble following war or some other calamity. We shouldn’t be eager to continue sports as normal — or life as normal — while the dead are being stored in mobile morgues and thousands of survivors are seeking relief from COVID-19 secondary health effects they are uncertain will ever end.
We don’t need sports at this time. What’s needed is everyone staying home as necessary, washing their hands, and following other protocols that ultimately prevent more death and sorrow.
As much as we’d all love to engage in the purity of competition, the compromises made in the exchange are just far too great. HBCUs made the right decision to forgo fall sports amid an untamed virus unknown to the world eight months ago.
With the threat still running unabated, these same institutions must do it again now that we are all familiar with its unforgiving behavior.