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The 'Old Gray Lady' swings and misses

News item: A columnist from the New York Times recently proclaimed that UConn is college football's true national champion for being, in Kurt Streeter's words, "the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to squarely face the coronavirus and decide against playing a single snap during a raging pandemic."

A more cynical fellow might read Mr. Streeter's words and think, "I'll take hyperbole for 800, Alex."

Especially when UConn had plenty of reasons other than altruism not to play this season. A wavering schedule through newly Independent status, history of declining revenue and interest and the prospect of not being very good among them. Put it this way: If UConn was to return 25 seniors and have 30,000 season tickets sold, there's no way the season would have been canceled.

Still, many of us should be able to summon some admiration for Randy Edsall and his players.

Later in his column, Mr. Streeter wrote that UConn's "vaunted" men's and women's basketball teams "have already been battered by the virus. Yet both carry on, eyes fixed on title dreams and fiscal windfalls, ears closed to the message sent by college football's real national champion."

And now we've graduated from hyperbolic to asinine.

I get that many in the journalistic profession believe that if the New York Times advocates it then it must be true. Au contraire. You can be just as obtuse in the pages of the Old Gray Lady as in the National Enquirer. And to suggest the UConn basketball teams — and by extension sports in general — have no purpose in a pandemic is myopic at best.

I'm not sure how the extremists want us to behave. Lock the doors, pull down the shades and leave the house only in emergency wearing hazmat suits?

Sports have never been more important than they are now. They provide us an important diversion and some entertainment in the face of increasing social isolation. Loosely translated: If consistent human interaction is discouraged at the moment, at least we can stay home, watch the game, yell at the TV and feel alive again.

Perhaps you find it objectionable that sports aren't on complete pause. Again: extremism. Sports have emerged with a role in the pandemic, regardless of whether a few of their dramatis personae find the sacrifices too difficult. Too bad. Sports figures bear the responsibility to sacrifice, strictly adhere to COVID protocols and play the games.

Yes, there's money to be made. Ah, capitalism. But in a pandemic, there's a secondary role of entertainment that many of us crave in the absence of social interaction.

Constructive criticism would be better used against college athletic departments — particularly in the south — for allowing too many maskless fans to shoehorn together in the stadiums. That poses far greater risk than the games themselves.

Not every college program has been, to use Mr. Streeter's words, "battered by the virus." Some college football teams made it through their entire season with no positive tests. Amazing what happens when the byproducts of your program are personal discipline and responsibility.

Mr. Streeter's words are an insult to Dan Hurley and Geno Auriemma. I don't know Hurley at all. But all indications suggest he does things the right way and certainly isn't about to imperil the health and well-being of his players. Ditto for Auriemma who I know very well. If you don't understand by now that Auriemma and Chris Dailey run America's model college athletic program, you aren't paying close enough attention.

Here is what I believe sports have come to mean:

I got a call recently from a friend of mine who works at a local prison. He was concerned about the growing number of COVID cases for the inmates and for his own personal safety. He texted me something after a recent column I'd written about sports and their importance.

"Life doesn't wait for you to catch up," my friend wrote. "Grief and loss still happen and that treasured social interaction helps mitigate the difficult times. I've got 100 COVID positives in my building right now — and I could use a college basketball game tonight."

So spare me the moral outrage over UConn's "irresponsible" basketball programs. Or your self-congratulatory angst over the college football season. Maybe you can live in a cave. But some of us want to just live. With the game on.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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