BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was talking during a recent interview, trying to stay optimistic, saying how difficult the current situation is for him and his teammates, having missed out on the back end of spring practices, shutting the whole thing down just as it was getting good, dealing with training circumstances at present and moving forward that are less than ideal, wondering about what comes next for his team and college football in general.
But with others all around who are struggling in far more serious ways, fighting through COVID-19, helping others fight through it, suffering through economic and safety and health uncertainty, it was clear Wilson got it. He didn’t want to sound as though he was feeling sorry for himself. He wasn’t.
Those others have it worse.
And that’s the predicament a lot of highly trained, finely tuned athletes — from Olympians to high school athletes, from NBA players to professional golfers, from surfers to soccer players, from pitchers and hitters to servers and returners — find themselves in, as events swirl around them, around their courts and fields and diamonds and pitches, in their communities, in their states, in their countries, in their world.
All hell is breaking loose, people getting sick, people afraid of getting sick, people losing their jobs, people afraid of losing their jobs, people unable to leave their homes, people unable to afford their homes.
And athletes have all the same concerns, for themselves and their loved ones, but they also can’t practice and play the way they normally would.
Well, it’s a bigger deal than some might suppose, that last part, not comparatively, but competitively.
When it was announced that the Tokyo Olympics would be postponed for a year, most of the athletes responded respectfully and responsibly, saying they would soldier on, keep holding on for the now-extended period. But that’s a big sacrifice, especially for those who have a few more rings around their trunks. Their time is limited, their energy, too. Their time is now.
Most folks have no idea how hard such athletes work at their discipline, what it takes to throw the javelin or swim the lengths of a pool or flip on a balance beam or row a mile at that level.
Yet, most of these athletes said the proper things. They would fight on.
And for high school and college athletes affected by the outbreak, they will miss out, some of them, on a time they will never get back. Think of a high school senior who just lost his or her final season of baseball or softball or tennis or golf, whatever it might be. They cannot go back, they can’t delay their matriculation to whatever comes next. While the NCAA will allow spring-sport athletes to have a do-over, if they want to hang out in college for another year to get in that experience, some of them won’t be able to do that, for all kinds of reasons. And for athletes who have been playing their sport for the better part of 15 or 20 years, practicing it, working at it, dreaming about it, they’ve lost that dream.
Most will never play at the next level.
They will just put the racket, the glove, the ball, the pads, the sport down and walk away. Not all, but a good number.
And the worst part of that is, they can’t mourn the loss, at least not outwardly. If they complain about what they’ve lost, outsiders will look at them like, “Oh, come on. With everybody hurting the way they are, there’s no reason for you to blubber like a baby over this.”
Many of them will not cry. But they will hurt. And nobody else should look away in disgust as they do.
One of the lessons of sports is said to be that if you pour your heart and soul into them, they will reward you by giving even more back. You give, you get. In this case, in many cases, the toll has been exacted without any recompense.
For those who have the opportunity to persist, maybe the competitive payoff will come. For those who don’t, maybe whatever they learned en route to disappointment, and the disappointment itself, will help them overcome significant future challenges.
They can always hope, even if that hope has let them down in the face of a virus that not only has gripped the world, but gripped their world. If they find their way through this, and help others do the same, perhaps that world will, in some yet-to-be-seen way, give them something of value in return.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.