The beginning of the pandemic gave way to many unexpected endings.
At the time, I was entering my junior year track season. Freshly healed from a stress fracture I sustained the previous cross country season, I was ready to ease my way back into competition. Little did I know at the time, my first track meet of the 2020 outdoor track season would be my last.
Flash forward to the summer months, my teammates and I held out ill-fated hope for a chance to get back on the start line in cross country. We knew if the season were to happen, it would look different in many ways, and we were mentally preparing ourselves to become accustomed to whatever our sport might look like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But on July 30, the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) announced that all fall sports would be postponed until spring, and the NCAA announced the cancellation of all championship games and meets shortly thereafter. Given that the majority of cross country athletes also run track, which takes place in the spring, this meant a cancellation of the entire cross country season, not just a postponement.
Reading that announcement, though I understood and continue to understand the necessity of the actions that drove it, quite literally broke my heart. I felt the same pain as the seniors competing in spring sports during the 2019-2020 academic year as the realization dawned upon me that I’ll never have another cross country season.
Relative to all that COVID-19 has taken from us this year, part of me wanted to shame myself for feeling such gravitational pain at a concept as minimal as losing a single sports’ season. People have lost lives in this pandemic, yet I was heartbroken over athletics. A certain sense of guilt came along with that.
But the pain I felt, and continue to feel, at the thought of not competing is real. It’s real for not just me, but for athletes everywhere who have also seen their seasons come to a halt before they’ve even had the chance to begin.
Despite the pain, I did find solace in the fact that I agreed with the MIAA’s and the NCAA’s decisions. It is wholly necessary to cancel sports as we try to get the virus under control. I found solace in the fact that although we, as athletes, are experiencing unprecedented loss and confusion in the midst of these lost seasons, it is something that we are at least all going through together, and in complying with our lost seasons, we’re protecting ourselves and each other by containing the spread of the virus.
As the last few months have carried forward, however, it has become evident that not all athletes are in the same boat with regard to missing seasons.
On Aug. 14, The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) announced its plans for fall sports to continue, with the exception of football moving to the spring. On Sept. 13, the Big Ten announced its decision to reverse fall competition cancellations, planning to return to the field on Oct. 24.
In these moments, watching other athletes continue their sports’ seasons while my teams’ season remained cancelled, I still didn’t question the MIAA’s decision to suspend competition for the coming months. I questioned other organizations’ decisions not to.
But that’s not to say that my questioning didn’t come without a twinge of jealousy. It didn’t come without envy for what other sports teams have that my team doesn’t.
If anything, the thought of knowing sports competition exists right now, knowing that it’s tangible, so close but so far, makes the wound of a competition-less season sting more than I thought possible.
It’s a bittersweet, confusing feeling, watching other athletes compete when you cannot. On one hand, I’m happy for them. On another, I’m hurt for my own team’s loss, illuminated by the stadium lights that no longer have to remain shut off this fall, at least not for everyone. And on a third, hypothetical hand, I’m concerned for how their numbers will look with regard to COVID-19 cases.
Over the summer, Michigan State University football players were on campus undergoing summer training. The summer was not a COVID-free season, and many outbreaks, though smaller and more contained than those popping up at some colleges and universities now, occurred.
Yet, despite this apparent disparity, the decision stands that it is safe for schools like Michigan State to compete in athletics, but not Albion.
I’m not saying Albion should compete in sports. I don’t think that the MIAA should make a decision reversal like the Big Ten. That would simply eliminate the progress we’ve made in mitigating the spread of the virus on our campus and it would pop Albion’s delicate safe zone bubble.
We shouldn’t compete in sports this fall, and I say that as an athlete who wants to complete my senior year cross country season more than pretty much anything in the world.
We should know the virus well enough by now to know that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If we, as Americans, are this determined to continue playing sports this fall despite rising case numbers throughout the country, we cannot be surprised when COVID-19 decides to play its own game with us.
We’re doing everything we can in this country to regain or maintain a sense of normalcy when, in reality, nothing is normal. The longer it takes for us to accept this, the longer it will be until normalcy is actually attained.
I say this as both an athlete, reeling at the loss of my sports’ season, and a sports fan, heartbroken at the loss of others. Now is not the time to proceed with athletics. Now is the time when COVID-19 is our opposing team, and that is the only thing we should be trying to beat. Going forward with sports works in direct opposition to that goal.
Cancelling a single sports season does not mean cancelling the sport as a whole. It doesn’t even mean cancelling the team. If anything, it brings the team closer together and allows them to work together to attain a brighter future for the sport.
Americans can adopt this same mentality and work together, too. We can wear masks, stay home and wash our hands. We might have to cancel one season, but we won’t have to cancel more than that if we work together as a team.