Thoughts while social distancing

What do you do when you’re a sportswriter, and sports suddenly disappear? ESPN is grappling with a similar scenario, as it scrambles to provide programming over a family of channels – with no games going on. Thursday night, Sports Business Journal media writer John Ourand shared an outline of programming for the network, with ESPN running SportsCenter around the clock, ESPNews picking up simulcasts of network radio talk shows, and ESPN2 simulcasting elements of both.

Looks good on paper, but what will SportsCenter report on, once the halt of sports becomes old news, and what will the sports talk shows talk about?

In an interview Thursday night, I heard ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith say that filling time during this sports hiatus, “will be the biggest challenge of my career.”

Listen, if Stephen A can’t come up with the words, the rest of us might be in trouble. I’ll admit, after another mind-blowing day, I’m not sure what exactly to say. I hear a good many sports voices out there giving opinions on the actions of organizations like the NCAA, NBA, MLS, Major League Baseball, The PGA and others to suspend operations, and that’s tempting. But in the end, what sports people think of public health is, in the end, of diminished value.

The decisions have been made. And once made, we have to hope they work. I do hear a lot of people still calling this an “overreaction.” I do think it’s important to note that this is not a reaction to something. It is not reactive in nature, but pro-active. It is action taken with the hope that the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be slowed to a degree that will allow the nation’s healthcare apparatus not to be overwhelmed.

I’m reminded of the week after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the games were stopped. But that was just for a week. This is more open-ended. It is, in sports terms, unprecedented.

In the end, as I looked at all the coverage, it occurred to me that perhaps a useful thing for me to do would be to fill in some gaps. If you want to immerse yourself in virus coverage, that’s easy to do. What’s not so easy to do is to get away from it, or to look at it from a different perspective.

Please understand: The coverage of this virus and its endless impact, financial, political, and in human terms, is critically important. But even psychologists will tell you, sometimes you have to get away from it.

If you haven’t been reading, let me summarize the day’s news for you with five headlines: Everything is closed or canceled – or will be soon. The stock market is in the crapper. The NCAA Tournament is off. The virus is spreading. Your grocery is slammed – it has antibacterial wipes at the entrance, but they’re thrown on the floor in such a way that they become a hazard themselves.

All right, that last one really isn’t in the news, but should be. Don’t get me started. Actually, that’s the purpose of his column. To start in on a few things. I mean, how are people at once so concerned with cleanliness but so messy? Anyway, I’ll be offering some thoughts from time to time as we get through this. You’re welcome to join. Let’s just all take a breath, maintain a healthy social distance, and move along.

1). MY PROBLEM with watching or reading coverage of this virus is that I can’t watch – or even talk about it – for very long without feeling as if I have it. My breathing gets more rapid. I start to imagine aches and pains. Can you catch this thing off television? A 20/20 special report last week nearly gave it to me, I swear. Let’s talk about something else.

2). NO. WAIT. I DON’T LIKE THE NAME ‘CORONAVIRUS.’ That’s what we’ve seized on, and that’s how it will be remembered. But a coronavirus is just a type of virus. There’s more than one. SARS and MERS were coronaviruses. The official name for this one is COVID-19. It sounds like a robot. I suppose if I get it, I’d rather have a virus that sounds like a beer than like a robot. The beer sounds more manageable. Who wants to fight a robot?

3). ACTUALLY, I DON’T THINK of beer when I hear the word “coronavirus.” I think of a Smith-Corona typewriter I used to have. I’m not a collector of typewriters, but I have a few. Meaningless fact: When I write columns – even this one – on my MacBook, the font I use is “American Typewriter.” It just means I’m old. But I guess you could call me a fan of typewriters.

4). YOU KNOW WHO IS A BIG COLLECTOR of old typewriters? Tom Hanks. He has tons of them. He lent his name to an iPhone typewriter app. He and his wife also have announced that they’ve contracted the COVID-19 virus. This thing knew what it is doing. He’s the one person who could get this thing that would guarantee it overwhelming exposure. Admit it, once you heard that Tom Hanks had it, you realized that this thing wasn’t going anywhere for a while. He gave an update on their condition Thursday night, which ended with a line from one of his movies: “There’s no crying in baseball.” Well played.

5). MY SUITCASE IS STILL IN THE CAR. That won’t mean anything to you, but it strikes me that a few days ago there was no question — I’d be in Nashville this weekend covering the SEC Tournament. I’d dragged my feet just a bit Thursday morning before heading out, once it became clear that a cancellation was possible. Still, I got as far as the suitcase in the car. Funny how quickly life can change.

6). I FEEL FOR THE SENIORS on teams who will not get to compete for NCAA championships. One week you’re gearing up for your last shot – and for some of them their only shot – only to have it taken away. I thought about Yacine Diop, who transferred to Louisville after graduating from Pittsburgh. She suffered a season-ending injury a year ago, which hurt the Cards’ Final Four chances. But she had played really well this season, and was an important part of Louisville’s ACC regular-season championship. She reached the promised land, but will not set foot inside it. She’s just one of many, and while this whole thing is bigger than basketball and there are people whose lives will be changed in far more dramatic and long-lasting ways, I hope that a time will come to tell some of the stories of these players, if only to remember their work, and acknowledge the opportunity lost.

7). KENTUCKY COACH JOHN CALIPARI released a statement on Thursday. Among the things he said was this: “I don’t say this lightly: I think I had the national championship team.” And I don’t say this lightly: I think I was going to win the Pulitzer prize with my story about it.

8). I’M NOT SURE OF LOUISVILLE COACH Chris Mack’s feelings on the decision. He did speak to CBS Sports radio on Thursday. He declined a request to speak with local reporters who traveled to Greensboro, N.C., to cover his team. I spoke with Louisville women’s coach Jeff Walz for a story on Wednesday. He was hopeful the tournament would be played, but realized that it was becoming a longshot even then.

9). IT’S OK TO BE BUMMED ABOUT THE TOURNAMENT. Not that you need my permission. There are lots of emotions going around, and people express them different ways. Some people get on social media and rail about politicians. Some people get on social media and rail against those people. Some get angry because some event they were looking forward to has been wiped out, and that anger manifests itself in many different ways. Many people are scared. They respond in different ways. The run on supplies is a reflection of that. In the face of something we know very little about, people want to feel like they’re doing something, so they buy enough toilet paper to last them until summer. It’s all OK. It’s all human nature. Sometimes we forget, but we all know there are people who are suffering in real, life-threatening ways. And people in this very community will. You can empathize with them and feel these smaller losses to.

10). WE’LL GET THROUGH IT. Stay calm. Wash your hands. Use good sense. Don’t watch too much cable news. Play a game. Read a book. Take a walk. Stay away from crowds. The vast majority of people will slow it down for a few weeks, and we’ll hope that this thing gets slowed down enough that we can move along soon. But it’s important to know going in, to get a handle on this virus and its spread, it might be better to expect life being altered for a couple of months, instead of a couple of weeks. Regardless of time, I hope we can all adjust, manage frustrations, and most of all stay healthy. We might even learn something in the process. Be safe, everybody.