COVID-19 threat took away distractions
In late 1941, with Americans still in shock from Pearl Harbour and their nation suddenly at war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the famous “Green Light Letter” to Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis, baseball’s first commissioner and a legend in his own right, had asked the president if big league ball should shut down for the duration of the Second World War. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” wrote Roosevelt, an avid fan himself, adding that Americans were about to be engaged in an all-out war effort and “more than ever” would need the respite provided by the national pastime. Big league stars like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and scores more enlisted and fought, but Landis kept the majors going, declaring that, “we’ll play as long as we can put nine men on the field.” Fun and games – sports – were among the early casualties of the coronavirus. When, on March 7, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced that the women’s world championship, scheduled to open at the end of this month in Truro and Halifax, was cancelled, it was a harbinger of things to come. After a few experiments with fan-less games, by Friday the 13th of March, every major sport in North America, and most of the world, was out of business until further notice. The same was true of the minors as well as school and amateur athletics. Sports may seem trivial in the current context, but they have long been a refuge from harsh reality, a distraction, if only for a few hours, from the minor annoyances and major worries that plague too many of us. But the threat we now collectively face won’t allow us that distraction. Nor can we go to the theatre, visit a museum or attend a concert. The effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 has stolen away the distractions many of us absorbed, at least in part, to take our minds off the turbulence of a world that was rather deeply disturbed even before the arrival of the novel coronavirus. As Simon Sherry, a professor in Dalhousie University’s department of psychology and neuroscience told the Herald’s Francis Campbell, part of the present problem is that people can’t escape the coronavirus crisis. If it’s not the topic of every conversation, it comes up. It is ubiquitous on social media and in the mainstream news. Of course it is. It’s a real and present danger to the health of all those who come in contact with it. It’s ravaging economies around the world and businesses around the corner. “In the short term, we are going to see people experience anxiety, fear, stress, panic and intrusive and unwanted thoughts, avoidance, tension in their bodies and a host of other difficulties,” said Dr. Sherry. But the spike in these destructive, debilitating emotions accompany the onset of a crisis and should subside over time. People are resourceful, adaptive and resilient, Dr. Sherry said, and they will rebound. “We don’t expect that there is going to be a long-term psychological disturbance arising from this type of a crisis.” But, he also warned against ruminating on and talking about the crisis, endlessly and purposelessly, because that can lead to another form of contagion – emotional contagion – whereby fear is spread from person to person. The constant drumbeat of the coronavirus, in conversation, on social media and in the news creates an ever-present sense of danger that amplifies the threat. What we need here is something else, something familiar and comforting, to distract our attention away from that constant drumbeat. Next Thursday would have been opening day for Major League Baseball, a new start when even Blue Jay fans can dream of a pennant. A few weeks later would have brought the NHL playoffs and the Masters golf tournament – a tradition like no other. But not this year, at least not for a while. You have to think that sports, like a lot of other things, are going to be that much sweeter when we get them back. Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on those in power.