The Coronavirus Case That Led To The Shut Down of American Sports Indefinitely

College and professional sports came to a screeching halt Thursday and Friday as if someone flipped a switch. The NCAA cancelled its marquee event, March Madness, while professional hockey and basketball suspended play until further notice, all because of the spread of COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus.

The Masters golf tournament and the Boston Marathon have also been postponed.

Though some sports executives previously talked about playing before empty arenas, or perhaps going as far to cancel or postpone their events, it was a single player in the NBA—and his bizarre actions—that triggered sports leagues to cancel or suspend operations.

The Utah Jazz of the NBA were in Oklahoma City on Wednesday morning for a game later that evening against the Thunder. Jazz center Rudy Gobert was feeling ill with symptoms closely-related to those known with COVID-19, and he had already tested negative for the flu, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. With the help of local health officials, Gobert was tested for coronavirus.

Gobert waited in his hotel room Wednesday while the test results—which typically take four-to-six hours to return—showed whether or not he had coronavirus.

His test came back positive.

But before he was in his room awaiting results on Wednesday, there was a post-game press conference he attended Tuesday where he joked about having the virus, and he reached out and touched all microphones and the cloth covering the table—before he exited the interview room.

Then on Wednesday, he became the first player in the NBA who tested positive for the virus that's quickly spreading around the United States. Commissioner Adam Silver knew there was no time to waste in suspending the season immediately.

And it happened.

On Wednesday night, the NBA became the first major sports entity to take such drastic measures in postponement, and the commissioner addressed it immediately.

"The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of Wednesday's schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic," the NBA stated on its website.

Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz looks on before a game against the Toronto Raptors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 9, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Earlier that day, the Golden State Warriors stated they would play their Thursday night home game against the Brooklyn Nets before an empty gym, This announcement came after the local government banned large gatherings of people to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The previous day, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) indicated it would hold its conference tournament before a limited audience of family members of the players and coaches, credentialed media, radio and TV crews, arena workers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland and school officials from each participating MAC school.

Then on Thursday, the sports world began shutting down, one by one.

First, the Big Ten announced it was canceling its conference tournament. Then the SEC made a similar announcement of canceling its tournament. In all, 14 conferences canceled their tournaments on Thursday.

Major League Baseball announced it would cancel the rest of spring training and delay its March 26 Opening Day by at least two weeks. The National Hockey League announced it would suspend play until further notice. And after hours of behind-closed-doors meetings, the NCAA announced the cancellation of men's and women's basketball tournaments, which includes the highly-lucrative and wildly-popular March Madness, which generates nearly $1 billion in revenue during three weeks.

Furthermore, the NCAA announced it would cancel all of its winter and spring championships through the end of the academic year, which meant no swimming and diving championships, no wrestling national championships, no College World Series—for either baseball or softball—and no other spring sports like lacrosse or track and field.

NASCAR and golf both announced it would suspend their activities until further notice.

Then on Friday the 13th, two more big postponements were announced. First, the annual Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia was postponed to a date to be determined, and the Boston Marathon scheduled for April 20 was postponed.

The shutdown of the sports world was not necessarily unprecedented, as it came to a complete halt exactly 18 and a half years earlier—one day after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

The coronavirus has been detected in 48 states, with 2,100 cases and 48 deaths in the U.S. as of Friday afternoon. Worldwide, it has infected 125,000 people, with more than 5,000 deaths.

Since the shutdown of major sports in America, major cities have begun implementing their own shutdown of schools, universities and large gatherings.

Disney announced the closing of DisneyWorld and Disneyland. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is a three-week event that draws millions of spectators, canceled in its entirety, as did the popular Austin music and film festival South by Southwest (SXSW).

President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon declared a national emergency for the coronavirus, and he pledged more than $50 billion to help combat the virus.

As for the sports world, there has been no timetable on when the lights will be turned back on, players take the field or how long the shutdown will last.