Column: The long shadow of coronavirus casts a pall over sports

Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Andy Sawyers gives notes before concluding the team's first practice last September at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

Andy Sawyers is used to the satisfying sound of a bat making solid contact.

The sight of a perfectly executed double play pleases him.

An outfielder leaving his feet and successfully snaring a line drive brings a smile.

Sawyers, in his fourth year as Southeast Missouri State baseball coach, will have to content himself with memories.

At least for the foreseeable future.

Athletics in the United States have been put into a deep freeze.

Virtually every sport has cancelled its complete schedule of competition.

Not even practices are being allowed.

Not even recruiting at the college level will be permitted until next month.

A bug has pulled out the rug from beneath all of us.

What in the blue blazes is a coronavirus, anyway?

It’s all happened so swiftly we’ve been left in a collective daze.

No wonder, then, to find Sawyers using the language of death Friday.

“I’m going through the stages of grief,” Sawyers told KGIR Radio.

As a former pastor with decades of experience with the bereaved, I can empathize with Sawyers.

To be bereaved is to find yourself in what the 23rd Psalm calls “the valley of the shadow of death.”

The shadow is casting a wide darkness this weekend.

How wide?

I saw the shadow in the bereft face of Redhawks basketball star Carrie Shephard the other day as she looked out the window of a Cape Girardeau coffee shop.

The NCAA had not yet cancelled March Madness but the prospect was in the wind.

Somehow Shephard knew it was over.

Loss, especially sudden inexplicable loss, brings to mind Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her five legendary grief stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Which stage are you in, reader?

Sports have an invisible hold on us but in the last few days it seems we can no longer feel their grasp.

Some of my most meaningful memories involve athletics, though I was never any good at any of them.

Playing catch with a neighbor boy, watching Steelers football with my late father, recalling Al Michaels’ breathless 1980 Olympic play-by-play question:

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Yes, cancelling athletic events for a greater good – for public health and safety – makes sense.

Err on the side of caution.

We can’t take any chances.

Unearth whatever bromide gets you through the day.

They help.

A little.

We’ve all lost something these past few days – and we realize we’ve been taking the joy sports bring into our lives for granted.

I’m with Andy Sawyers.

I can’t believe sports are cancelled – and yet they are. There’s my first-stage denial.

I’m angry, welcome stage two – but there’s no rational target for my upset.

Yes, Coach Sawyers, what we’re feeling is like a death.

Not precisely, but as the aphorism goes, “close enough for jazz and government work.”

The sun will come out again but in the meantime, the shadows seem awfully long and wide.

Jeff Long is a sports reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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