In an alternative universe, which is to say, the normal reality that we've enjoyed for the past 80 years, the NCAA would crown its men's basketball champion tonight. This year, there was no "March Madness" for men or women, just as there was no Opening Day in baseball and seasons were abruptly cut short in professional hockey, basketball, and soccer. The Kentucky Derby won't be held on the first Saturday in May. Also delayed or postponed: the 84th edition of the Masters, the Indianapolis 500, Wimbledon, the Olympics.
Sports mean a great deal to Americans, although not enough to die for, which is why stadiums and ice rinks and racetracks and basketball arenas are empty. Over the weekend, more Americans died from this virus than were killed on 9/11. Among them was Tom Dempsey, a man who became an iconic National Football League kicker despite being born missing fingers and toes. Dempsey reminded us every time he took the field in his specially designed kicking shoe what we love about athletics. For one thing, it reminds us of the joy of overcoming life's hurdles. And that life can be as magical as fiction. It certainly was the case for New Orleans Saints fans on Nov. 8, 1970 when the Saints gave up the lead with 11 seconds left to play only to have Dempsey set an NFL record -- and win the game -- by kicking 63-yard field goal as time expired.
"It's incredible!" screamed the announcer. "Tulane stadium has gone wild!" And that's what you notice if you watch footage of that kick today: how happy it made the fans, and how many there were cheering and hugging each other in such close contact. That's what we miss. Now we also miss Tom Dempsey and the nearly 10,000 other Americans who have died from this cruel virus.
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To combat COVID-19, Americans have had to forgo a lot more than sports. A moment ago, I listed some of the iconic spring athletic events that we are missing. And that's only one sector. How about South by Southwest in Austin? The Rolling Stones tour and Elton John's tour? Also, Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, the Grand Ole Opry, Disneyland, Disney World, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, National Spelling Bee, White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner, Tribeca Film Festival, St. Patrick's Day parades, the Boston Marathon. All of these were closed, canceled or postponed -- along with thousands of other events.
In most states "non-essential" employees and business have been ordered to stand down. But what a misleading word that is: non-essential? These enterprises certainly are essential to the people engaged in them, who've given their lives to building them. They are essential to the mental and spiritual and emotional well-being of the rest of us, too. Are preschools, elementary schools, high schools, vocational schools, and colleges "non-essential"? Really?
This is not a call to ignore the advice of Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx and a vast array of local, state, and federal officials. They are our saving many lives. Yet human beings are a social species. "Social distancing" is not in our nature. Here is a list of businesses we can't patronize and endeavors we cannot pursue in person:
After-school activities, airline travel, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, arboretums, aquariums, amusement parks, art festivals, art galleries, auto racing, auto shows, arcades, athletic clubs, baby showers, bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, ballet classes, ballet performances, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, bars, barber shops, baseball games, basketball, beaches, beauty salons, beer gardens, Bible study, bicycle races, bingo halls, boat shows, book clubs, book fairs, book readings, and book stores.
Bowling leagues, Boy Scouts, brewpubs, cafes, canoe trips, car shows, casinos, choirs, church worship, chess clubs, cigar bars, clothing stores, coffee shops, college classes, concert halls, concert tours, conferences, cooking classes, country clubs, dance studios, dance theaters, dating, daycare centers, dining clubs, drug treatment centers, exercise studios, family reunions, flash mobs, film festivals, fitness centers, florists, flower shows, flying lessons, fly-fishing shops and other angling outlets, food courts, fundraising events, funerals. Yes, funerals.
Garden tours, Girl Scouts, golf, group hikes, group hugs, gyms, hair salons, handshakes, health clubs, hockey games, holding hands, Holy Communion, horse racing, hot dog vendors, hotels, hugging, ice rinks, indoor rock-climbing facilities, job fairs, kissing, lacrosse, libraries, liquor stores. Little League, live music, live theater, malls, marches, memorial services, military academies, miniature golf, mosque services, movie theaters, museums, music festivals, motorcycle clubs, nail salons, nightclubs, ocean cruises, office work, opera houses, optometrists, quinceaneras, nature centers.
Parades, parks, poetry readings, performing arts centers, personal trainers, political rallies, primary debates and elections, public markets, puja services, rafting trips, rec centers, resort hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, retirement homes, road races and marathons.
Sailing lessons, senior citizen centers, shoe repair shops, skate parks, skating rinks, ski resorts, spas, soccer leagues, social clubs, softball leagues, sporting goods stores, Sunday school, swimming, surfing, symphony orchestras, synagogue services, tanning salons, taverns, tennis tournaments, theme parks, town halls, trampoline parks, vacations, vocational training, yoga classes, weddings, wineries, wine tastings, zoos. Yes, we miss pandas, and we miss the other people.
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd…
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.