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Sports suddenly 'don't matter?' They've never mattered more

How ironic that a few dullards banging the drum for how sports suddenly don't matter in the wake of this national health crisis don't quite grasp that sports have never mattered more.

Sports, the great societal distraction, became the vehicle that ultimately awakened the country to the COVID-19's threat. It wasn't until the public learned that an NBA player named Rudy Gobert tested positive — and until the NBA subsequently shut down its game for a while — that the country truly appreciated the gravity of the virus and the necessity of a new reality.

Some people died of the virus in a Life Care Center in Washington. National reaction: crickets. Our scientific community warned us repeatedly. National reaction: crickets. But an NBA player gets it and no more games anywhere for a while? Oh, the humanity.

Indeed, it had always been easier to illustrate the societal context of sports more metaphorically than literally. Until now.

We are undergoing an entire societal reboot with a suddenly empty sports calendar, the byproduct of "social distancing." Think about that premise. We have no sports because we must adhere to social distancing. It means that no other societal instrument brings us together more than sports. Locally, regionally and nationally.

And only when it became clear that virus' spread would thrive among large crowds did the realization become clear: We can't do sports again for a while.

It hardly makes them "irrelevant," as I've read in a few outposts. They've never been more relevant. It doesn't mean they should come back anytime soon. But for any of you — from earnest academic scholars to obtuse social media blatherers — who attempt to dismiss the significance of sports on our society, remember this: How many lives did sports just save?

Rudy Gobert might as well have been Everyman two days before he learned he had the virus. He actually mocked it in a press conference. He made sure to breathe on and touch tape recorders and other electronic gadgets reporters left on the table in front of him. How many regular Joes and Janes that we know shared Gobert's feelings? Much ado about nothing. It can't happen here. The media blowing it out of proportion. On the band played.

And then ... boom. Rudy Gobert learned he was sick. Sobering news to him personally. Sobering to everyone else, too. If it can happen to a big, strong pro athlete ...

Gobert's illness triggered the initial domino. The NBA went dark. Everything else followed, including the slice of Americana known as March Madness. The result: thousands and thousands of people across the country who would have been in close proximity would not be any longer. Practically, it theoretically slowed the spread of the disease. But contextually, it introduced us to a new reality.

Imagine: It took a sick man to keep others healthy. And that sick man happens to be an NBA player whose celebrity finally helped raise enough awareness to inspire a national movement.

It's fair to view that as a sad commentary. We actually need what Howard Cosell once called the "toy department" to awaken us, especially after many in the scientific community went hoarse warning us.

But this is the power of sports on our society. You don't even have to be a sports fan to acknowledge it anymore. Sports, our constant companion for almost all 365 days a year now, has power that exceeds mere entertainment.

There's no denying that once sports resume, they'll be our most significant litmus test as to whether the virus has been truly contained. Because nothing else will bring as many people together in close proximity more. It's quite the compliment. And responsibility.

It hasn't been a bad few days, I must say. I've walked on the beach, around my neighborhood, enjoyed my porch, had a nice dinner out, began a few books, cooked up a storm and began devising ways to entertain a 9-year-old. The great American reboot.

But boy, do I miss basketball. It'll be back in time, just as all sports will. In all their glory. And relevance.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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