Note: I submitted the following as a potential Op-Ed to Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, which, alas, declined to run it due to a surfeit of COVID-19 content.
Utah Jazz, NBA, fans should hang together in COVID-19 crisis
By Ken K. Gourdin
It’s entirely possible that no one feels worse about the current state of the National Basketball Association and of its Utah Jazz in light of COVID-19 than does Rudy Gobert.
It’s easy to pin massive blame on Gobert allegedly for introducing this deadly-serious disease into the NBA and into the Jazz’s formerly jocular locker room. But the law of averages dictates that it’s very likely that Gobert and his teammate, Donovan Mitchell, won’t be the only NBA players to contract it.
Further, Gobert hardly is the only jokester and prankster in that locker room, the virus didn’t originate with him, and he is responsible, if at all, only in a small way for its transmission: he’s simply another in a long list of its terribly unfortunate victims.
It’s also unfair to say, with the benefit and bias of 20/20 hindsight, “Well, Gobert had this deadly-serious disease”—though there’s no proof he was aware of it at the time—“and how dare he turn it into a joke?!” By way of analogy, if one wonders how first responders can tell such morbid jokes at even the most macabre, gruesome crime and accident scenes, as the son of a career law enforcement officer, I’m fairly familiar with this particular defense mechanism.
When one of his patients asked him how he could tell such a seemingly-endless stream of jokes in light of the horrors he saw and experienced on a daily basis, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, of M*A*S*H fame, responded that joking was the only way he could open his mouth about such horrors without screaming about them.
As it is with first responders who trade jokes amid mayhem and carnage, so it might be with some of us and COVID-19. If the two choices are laugh or scream, as incongruous and inappropriate as it might seem on some levels, many of us would prefer to do the former. Gobert was probably in the “laugh-don’t-scream” group before he actually contracted the condition. On that score he was, is, and will be in good company, and should not be blamed for that.
Speaking as a far-outside observer, it appears that humor is a key ingredient of the cement that binds the Jazz together. While, undeniably, COVID-19 is serious, I would hate to see it dissolve that cement.
No matter how many of us might walk around sporting t-shirts with such ridiculous slogans as “Basketball is life,” leave it to something as serious as COVID-19 to give us such a stark, jolting reminder of the difference between the two: basketball is only a game, and only life is life.
While, like COVID-19, treason is a serious matter, and while basketball, by contrast, is relatively unimportant, perhaps the Jazz locker room can benefit from Benjamin Franklin’s advice to his fellow rebels, that all of them should hang together, lest they all hang separately.
While acknowledging COVID-19’s seriousness, it’s also important to not overstate the case. Is it serious? Yes. Could it kill large numbers of people? Yes, especially among the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and those who already have conditions which make them susceptible to it. While they are not immune, world-class athletes don’t fall into any of those categories.
As we saw after 9/11, sports has tremendous power to unite. As serious as COVID-19 is, perhaps we should take a lesson from that in responding to the current crisis.
Ken K. Gourdin, Pleasant Grove, maintains a blog at Greatgourdini.wordpress.com, and is a longtime observer of the Utah Jazz.