Medical realities took the lead role in ending the Big Ten fall sports season Tuesday afternoon, but a football mom may have driven them home.
Debbie Rucker’s son, Brady Feeney, is an incoming freshman offensive lineman at Indiana. He tested positive for the coronavirus last month, while taking part in voluntary workouts in Bloomington with his new teammates.
He wasn’t the only Hoosier to test positive, but most of his teammates did not get sick. Feeney did, and he didn't get better.
He had breathing issues, and lingering heart issues. An emerging reality of COVID-19 is that, apparently, it can lead to cardiac issues, including inflammation of the heart, or myocarditis.
The complication can apparently happen in patients who are otherwise only mildly symptomatic, and can show up even after patients have otherwise recovered.
Debbie Rucker hit Facebook hard.
“Bottom line, even if your son's schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN'T PROTECT THEM!!” she wrote.
“I pray my son recovers from this horrible virus and can lead a healthy normal life!! Football does not really matter when your child's health is in jeopardy!! Think about it!!! My heart is hurting and I pray for all of these kids and for the people making the decisions about the season!!!”
This is not to suggest that Rucker trumped the experts. But maybe she connected a name and a face to realities that even the most earnest adults can't mitigate.
Last Wednesday, the Big Ten announced a fall schedule. By Saturday it had told its members not to put on the pads for practice just yet.
On Tuesday it blew up the season.
The scientific consensus couldn't have changed that much in six days.
You can argue that college football players are safer, on an everyday basis, on campus, under the guidance of coaches and trainers and massive support staffs, than they would at home, or turned loose in the general student body.
But what about the games? Football is a 24/7/365 American obsession, but recruiting and drafts and combines and point spreads all go away without games, and right now, football games simply can't be seen as anything other than giant superspreader events.
“Obviously, if we move into pads for contact, contact tracing is an issue,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on Big Ten Network Tuesday.
“And then the long-term effects … we just don't know.”
So Penn State football, and everything it means in our corner of the world — socially, culturally, economically — is gone for now.
Nittany Nation turns its lonely eyes to the spring, although spring football would come with an avalanche of questions and issues far too big to address here. The coming weeks and months will be dense with all that, although we should mention that Urban Meyer, on BTN Tuesday, recoiled at the thought of it.
“No chance,” he said. “In my very strong opinion, the body is not made to play two seasons in one calendar year.”
Even if he's wrong, there will be a vacuum. Five months that feel like five years ago, I wrote in This Space that sports are a way of marking time. In that way, the year is supposed to begin around Labor Day.
It's a long way from the top of the list of things this country has lost to its spectacular failure to take a virus seriously, but it's not at the bottom, either.