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Game changer: My friend Doris tested positive for coronavirus

Until Friday, my outlook on the coronavirus likely mimicked the musings of many other John and Jane Q. Publics: Mysterious, confusing, confounding and a little scary.

And then it all changed Friday afternoon, upon learning that my longtime friend Doris Burke recently tested positive.

Many of you know Burke from her work with the NBA on ESPN. We go back to her days covering women's basketball, having shared many cups of coffee and glasses of wine, talking about basketball, theater and life in general. In spite of her burgeoning notoriety, she's never forgotten her roots. She is every bit as genuine as she appears.

I texted her a brief get well message. She wrote back, "thankful to be getting better every day Mike!"

It's a relief to know she's symptom free. Yet her story is also a cautionary tale.

It's hard to convey how quickly my feelings about the virus changed in a nanosecond. It was no longer this thing you see on TV all the time that's keeping (most) everyone home. It was a brief-but-scary illustration that everybody's susceptible. And when it hits home with a friend or family member, you come face to face with mortality in ways you never experienced before. In ways you couldn't.

And yet it took the close-to-home example to awaken me. My own ignorance tied in a neat bow with the rhythms of human nature. If it doesn't happen to me, it must not be real. Except it is. But until you experience it internally, spiritually and consciously, you remain in blissful ignorance.

Intellectually, sure, we know a small percentage of the population will die of the coronavirus. But until it's one of your people, it's merely a number. Doris Burke isn't a number to me. She is a friend.

I suspect we are entering a phase when more of us will experience similar epiphanies. The virus will go from something that's coming to something that's here and affecting people we know. Some of us will see lives in peril. First hand.

I realized Friday for the first time that what I knew intellectually about the virus had transformed emotionally as well. Social distancing's inherent inconveniences are irrelevant. To everybody. We are trying to prevent death by keeping the vulnerable people alive long enough to come up with a vaccine. We do that with less crowded hospitals. It's hard enough for health care workers to deal with overcapacity on a good day. We need to individually embrace social responsibility as we never have before.

I've spent this week throwing snowballs back and forth with the golf community, whose loyalists believe their vocation should go the way of Old Man River and just keep rolling along. Societal responsibility is someone else's responsibility.

I remain steadfast: Just because golf has some characteristics that in theory are consistent with social distancing doesn't mean golf is a good idea at the moment. None of us know the true prevalence of this virus. Dr. Fauci and the surgeon general are begging us to all set good examples for social distancing — because social distancing will help flatten the infamous curve.

Local golfers have immersed themselves into dizzying levels of rationalization as to why their activity is still a good idea. It's only now I realize they don't get it because they simply can't. The coronavirus is still something that happens to someone else. Not them. And how can walking an open golf course hurt anybody? They don't understand they are setting a bad example.

And they won't understand until the virus affects their lives. People just don't get it until it's in their backyard. It's human nature. Not a character flaw.

This is nothing new. We need to see it to believe it. Just like in the Bible, where the Apostle Thomas — "doubting Thomas" — refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the other apostles until he could see the wounds Jesus received on the cross. Indeed, we are all such skeptics who refuse to believe without direct, personal experience. Experts are overrated.

My direct, personal experience came Friday. It may not be done. But it offered a valuable lesson.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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