Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals, sits empty on March 12 (Nick Wass)
Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals, sits empty on March 12 (Nick Wass)|Associated Press

Mike Kern takes a step back and sees the light at the end of the darkened sports tunnel

Mike Kern

Mike Kern


OK, so what are we all supposed to be with ourselves now? Or at least for the time being.

Here’s the really scary part: if Rudy Gobert hadn’t tested positive on Wednesday night, we’d still be watching and living and betting on sports. Not to mention writing about them. At least for a while more. Nobody knows for how long, though, because this was inevitable. It was going to happen, whenever. Tomorrow, this weekend, next week. Somebody or something was going to become the tipping point, and it just happened to be Gobert. Ironically, just a short time after he had mocked the whole corona virus situation by rubbing his hands on as many microphones as he could reach at the end of a press conference, a move that he’s come to regret.

Once he tested positive, everything happened so fast. The NBA suspended its season. Then college basketball tournaments followed. Then it was the NHL. And major-league baseball. Golf took a bit longer to get on (or off?) board, but in the end even The Masters is off . . . for now. But make no mistake. The NBA didn’t make the decision. The decision was made for it. And again, it was inevitable. We were headed this way all along.

We in America like to think we’re above all this. Especially when things are happening in China and Italy and other places way over there somewhere. But this is a world thing. And now we have to figure out a way to get through it, just like everyone else. If they can cancel soccer leagues in Europe, they can cancel an NCAA Tournament. There will be other Marches. I know it stinks, but that’s the reality. And to be honest, who really would have cared about an event that was being played in front of almost no one, maybe in scaled-down venues? For who, for what? Selection Sunday, had it actually taken place, would have seemed hollow to me. And I’m sure many others.

I covered sports for almost four decades, for a paper that had one of the best sports sections anywhere. I played sports as a youngster. It was my world. And now I try to pick some winners for this website. (And sometimes I’m actually good at it.) The trying to part is fun, albeit frustrating at times. It allowed me to stay in the game. And that’s what we like. Games. It gives us something to look forward to. Always has. Maybe I’ll take Villanova tonight giving three to Seton Hall. And perhaps I’ll be right. And if not I’ll just try again. Who could ask for much more?

Now, I’m going to have way too much time on my plate. And so will most of the people I know. Who knows what ESPN will do? But this had to happen. We’re not that different from the rest of the folks on this planet. We just like to think we are. We will beat this thing. I’m just not sure when. I’m not sure anyone knows. But by shutting down sports, along with many of the other things in our everyday life, we’re giving ourselves a better chance to control the virus in a shorter span of time. If it keeps even a few more people safer, or saves some lives, how can we complain that we won’t have games to occupy us for the next month or so.

At some point, we’ll get back to something approaching normal. There will be NBA and NHL playoffs. They might not take the same form, and we might not get back the conclusion of the regular season, but it won’t matter. We’ll crown two champions. And maybe even one of them will be the Flyers. Or dare I say Sixers. Both? Hey, we can dream. The baseball season will start, albeit about a month later than usual. And by the middle of the summer, that won’t matter any more either. And by then, the NFL will be almost upon us and all will be pretty right with the world once more.

Sure, we might not have an NFL draft the way we’re used to it. But there will be a draft. And free agency, and all those other good things that has made pro football a year-round journey. We may even still have a Masters. I just don’t know if there will be patrons, as they like to call them down there, or not. But if anyone can pull that off in this landscape it’s the green jackets at Augusta National. (And that just might be the perfect re-start to the sports world!) So I wouldn’t necessarily bet against them. And by next fall we will have our college athletics back too. As it should be.

Will the lack of a national champion in hoops leave a void? I suppose, but we’ll get over it. It’s not like we really have a choice. The real world has infringed on the candy store that we’ve come to know and embrace. That’s unfortunate. But unavoidable. So read a few good books, take more walks, talk to the wife, watch the Food Network. Whatever gets you through. But get through we will. And when all the games you love gradually return, you can embrace them all over again. And hopefully the country and the world will be in at least a little better place by then.

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. And it’s nobody’s fault. Stuff happens. Sometimes it’s bad stuff. Yo, nobody said it always has to be seashells and balloons. I wish I was watching Villanova play somebody next week. Now it’ll have to be next year. And that stinks, especially for the kids who might never get that opportunity again. Or a team like Dayton, that only wanted to prove it could get its One Shining Moment. It’s not fair. It doesn’t have to be. So take some time off, hit the pause button, and look forward to getting back to the way it’s always been. Because we will. And then I can get back to handing out those teasers that are sure to drive us all nuts. In the meantime, know that we are doing the right thing, all of us. Even if there were no other options. If nothing else, hopefully this will make us appreciate exactly how good we’ve had it. Can’t wait to get back.

Until then, may you and yours be safe. For the time being that’ll have to suffice. The emptiness will go away, soon enough.

This is no time to panic. Don’t fear the virus, but certainly respect it. If we’ve overreacted, it’s still better than not doing as much as possible and then suffering the consequences. If the worst thing that comes out of all this is that we miss a month or so of our favorite diversions, then so be it. I’m willing to take that risk, as opposed to the alternative.

Let’s be on the right side of these decisions. There will always be more bets to make. And it should be worth the wait.

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