Back in late June, noted Instagram GOAT and now-Buccaneers QB Tom Brady shared a post-workout photo of himself hydrating superimposed with the famous Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote, “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
The social media message was universally interpreted as Brady pushing back against advice from the NFLPA and public criticism that workouts with his new Tampa Bay teammates were inappropriate in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
At the time the message may have seemed somewhat questionable, but not anymore. Rather, it was prescient.
Though FDR’s famous quote had nothing to do with leadership through a pandemic, those words from his 1933 Inauguration speech actually continue and could not be more appropriate today.
“…the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
We’ve learned this week that the worst symptom of Covid-19 isn’t trouble breathing, fever or fatigue.
It’s not the possibility of long term lung issues.
It’s not even myocarditis, a newfound complication that came to the forefront when Red Sox would-be ace Eduardo Rodriquez was lost for the shorted MLB season due to the issue.
Nope. The worst and most far-reaching symptom of the coronavirus, one that’s not listed as such when you do a simple Google search, is fear. Fear to live our lives. Fear to return to some form of normalcy. Fear to advance back into the world even as the experts, testing and data push us in that direction.
Nearly 100 years apart, those noted leaders Brady and FDR were right.
That coronavirus fear came to a head this week nationally in the world of college football and regionally as many Massachusetts school systems revealed that they would be starting the new academic year with remote learning.
The football fear snowball grew in recent days as New England powerhouse programs UConn and UMass announced they would not play in the coming months.
Then came the MAC, an honest-to-goodness FBS conference.
But those announcements, after months of Division II and III cancellations, paled in comparison to the shockers that the Big Ten and Pac-12 – Power 5 conferences that produce endless NFL talents and collect tens of millions of dollars through football – were postponing the 2020 fall season
Fear of liability and litigation. Fear of public scrutiny. Fear of the worst case scenario, even if that fear has to have been mitigated in some way by the bubbled-play success of the NBA and NHL and the relatively smooth non-bubble accomplishments for MLB, the PGA, UFC and other sports entities that have found a way to perform.
Not football. Not in the Big Ten or the Pac-12.
For those not already infected with fear, it really is hard to grasp.
Even decision makers in other Power 5 conferences – the SEC, Big 12 (for now) and ACC all continue to plan to play – fail to understand why exactly the Big Ten and Pac-12 suddenly reversed course this week to cancel the season.
“We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe," Duke Dr. Cameron Wolfe, chair of the ACC medical advisory group, told the Sports Business Daily. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus."
There’s the rub. Some of these very schools that are cancelling football are indeed actually welcoming students back to campus. Into the tight, indoor quarters of dorms. Into classrooms. Into places that are scientifically considered far more risky than the outdoor world of the football field.
Fear is a powerful thing, for months it has fueled mixed messages and contradictory information. Fear even skews the way something that should be factual – statistics – are interpreted. One man’s impressively-low positive test rate is another’s “slight uptick.”
The fear overtaking the amateur football world – the MIAA has reportedly pulled the plug on high school football being played in Massachusetts this fall, the sport placed in the highest risk category by the state – is also apparently running rampant through many school systems as September approaches.
Despite Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent assertion he “can’t imagine a good reason not to go back” to school for most communities, plenty are in fact pushing for remote learning rather than hybrid or full in-person schooling.
That’s because there isn’t "a good reason” Mr. Governor, there is just fear. A fear that at times you and other politicians, doctors, supposed experts calculatedly cultivated.
Now, that fear is taking over our state and our nation like an invasive weed arriving in an unwanted, unmarked package from China, choking out everything in its path.
Fear took down the bulk of the college football world this week, derailing the on-field development and future successes of players all over the country.
Fear is jeopardizing the academic and social development of our own sons and daughters as they prepare to once again “learn” via Zoom while sitting on their butts and staring at a laptop screen for hours upon hours.
The coronavirus is real. The pandemic that began late last winter has caused immeasurable damage to our society, well beyond the 160,000-plus deaths and the hospitalizations.
But Brady was right, there is something more powerful and far more dangerous than even the coronavirus.
The leaders of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and schools across Massachusetts have proven that.