The Masters figured to be an intriguing case. Every other sporting entity in the nation – heck, the world; even the Premier League has closed its doors – has shut down. Augusta National, as we know, is an entity unto itself, and its signature tournament is, as we’re forever being reminded, a tradition unlike any other. And we’re still a ways away from April 9.
But give the green-jacketed folks credit. They did the right thing, and they did it without kicking and screaming. They announced Friday that the Masters has been postponed. It hasn’t been canceled, but it won’t be played at the time this tournament has always been played. Which pretty much tells us where our world is today.
I’ve typed “COVID-19” so many times in the past 10 days that I feel as if I’ve become a medical correspondent, albeit one sans portfolio, but the confirmation that the Masters won’t be played as scheduled essentially completes the loop on Georgia sports. There’ll be no Final Four at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Hawks have stopped playing. Atlanta United has stopped playing. The Braves won’t start on time. NASCAR just postponed the races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The country is shutting down, which it surely needed to do, and sports are following suit. You can make the argument that, at such a grim time, we need distraction. The trouble with that is we’re reliant on athletes to distract us, and athletes are people, too. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz have tested positive for coronavirus. A referee who worked the Colonial Athletic Association basketball tournament Saturday in Washington, D.C., tested positive. Mikel Arteta, manager of Arsenal in London, tested positive.
We could go on. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, positive. Sophie Trudeau, the Canadian First Lady, positive. The president of Brazil, positive. This is no longer a disease affecting those in Wuhan, China. Italy is essentially under quarantine. Norway is, too. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All we can do is wash our hands, limit our exposure and, if you’re Catholic, say many Hail Marys.
(Speaking of which: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory left our Atlanta diocese last year for Washington D.C. He announced Thursday that all masses in the District are canceled until further notice. If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing ever will.)
Back to sports. Or, to be accurate, back to not having sports. For those of us who follow these silly games, there’s no precedent for such shuttering. Baseball played on during two world wars. I covered the first game in New York after 9/11. (The Braves played at Shea Stadium on 9/21. Piazza hit a home run to win it. The next morning, screeners at LaGuardia confiscated my nail clippers.) The Rose Bowl was played – albeit in Durham, N.C. – on Jan. 1, 1942 because we feared enemy submarines were lurking off the California coast. (Oregon State beat Duke 20-16.)
We’re a relatively young nation, but we’ve endured a lot. I’m not sure we’ve faced anything like this. We can’t stop doing everything, but we can hold off on the stuff that doesn’t absolutely need doing. For as much as we love them, sports are non-essential. We can get by without them, at least for a few weeks. (Though I concede the absence of the Premier League punches a hole in my Saturday and Sunday mornings.) We say again: This is a pandemic. The only essential now is to try to stay healthy.
Driving home from the one-day SEC tournament in Nashville, I spoke with someone who asked what the Masters might do. I thought there was a chance that Augusta National, which has had its moments of stubbornness, might try to buck the wave, not to mention reality. To its credit, the famous golf course has proved to be a responsible corporate citizen. Good for it.
Oh, and this just in. The Boston Marathon, always a staple of Patriots Day, which is the third Monday in April, has been postponed until Sept. 14. If there’s any comfort to be found in these scary times, it’s that so many people and organizations are trying to do the right thing.
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