The impact on sports of the latest wave of COVID-19 is so widespread and intense that the mind becomes numb.
The industry insists it shall carry on. Most of us would have it no other way.
Coaches, players and staffers are sitting out games; postponements are shredding schedules of the NHL and NBA; the college football bowl season, already largely superfluous, is pickled with cancellations and fears of more; and the erosion of the quality of play in the sacrosanct NFL is a topic no one wants to address, certainly not among its broadcast partners.
Thursday at VMAC, the curtain of numbers and numbness was pulled back to reveal a familiar face willing to share a story that brings home the personal consequences of muddling through.
Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett, soft-spoken yet voluble and mostly filter-free, explained what his pro-athlete life was like for about 10 days after his positive diagnosis Dec. 16.
The omicron variant is often characterized by some as little more than sniffles. Lockett, who is vaccinated, as are nearly all of his teammates, begs to differ.
“It was very exhausting,” he told reporters via video conference. “I could barely move. My throat was hurting. I had chills. My chest was hurting. I was very, very anxious. My mind was just wandering because I was probably thinking too much. I was throwing up. I threw up the first day a couple times, but just once after that. I just had no energy, so I was barely eating. I think I lost like eight pounds.”
Lockett was cleared to play in Sunday’s game against the downtrodden Bears, who stunned the Seahawks, 25-24, in what coach Pete Carroll called “maybe the worst loss” of his 12-year tenure. Lockett, long the favored receiver of Russell Wilson, was targeted six times and caught three balls for 30 yards. He had a good reason for his diminished production.
“I was just tired and exhausted,” he said. “I don’t want to say I had breathing problems, but I couldn’t fully breathe out of my chest like I wanted to. You know how you just get that big air? Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn’t. It was just very unfortunate. I was out for a whole week.”
Lockett was forced to sit out the previous week’s pivotal 20-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, who held the Seahawks to a single touchdown drive, three third-down conversions and 214 yards of offense, while double-covering the Seahawks’ only other proven wideout, DK Metcalf.
All Lockett could do was get tested daily and hope for a negative result.
“I think if anything, that’s what hurts your mental,” he said. “It was one thing to be tested positive on Thursday, but then to be positive again Friday, and be positive again Saturday, and then be positive again Sunday, and Monday and then Tuesday. That’s the hard part.
“Every day, you’re building yourself up, only to start back over the next day. In the same boat of saying, ‘Bro, am I ever going to get through this?’”
Besides the impact of his absence on his teammates, he saw how some in the public took it, at least on social media, and was annoyed.
“When you’ve dealt with the symptoms of COVID-19, and you’ve seen how it was on you, it’s like, we really don’t know how it’s going to affect other people,” he said. “For me, it sucked seeing people say, ‘Is Tyler going to play? I need him to help my fantasy (team).’
“I’m just trying to make it through this . . . if you actually get it, or people in your family go through it, you see how detrimental it is. You see how people do die from this stuff. That’s why I said for me, it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t play. But I’m also thankful that I was able to still be here and still enjoy my life.”
Lockett, one of 11 Seahawks so far to have been sidelined in this outbreak (eight have returned), was not the only Seattle pro athlete to come forward with his covid story. Kraken forward Colin Blackwell missed 11 days after testing positive and entering NHL protocol Dec. 8.
“I unfortunately got hit pretty bad by COVID,” Blackwell said Monday via the Seattle Times. “I probably had five days of really bad symptoms.
“I didn’t touch a weight, or work out. I struggled doing my laundry. I was pretty sick to be quite honest with you. So, I didn’t do anything.”
The debilitations in sports are a high-profile but small part of the breakout of the omicron variant nationally and globally that is killing the unvaccinated and breaking through to sicken some of the vaccinated. More than a year after the vaccine was rolled out, new cases of covid in the U.S. have soared to the highest level on record at more than 265,000 per day on average.
Although the mortality rate with omicron is lower, the surge again is overwhelming heath-care providers, including front-line testers. The University of Washington’s vast health-care system announced Thursday that it will soon limit testing appointments at its community stations to include only those with symptoms and known exposures. An “astronomically high” positivity rate is slowing the testing process. Via the Seattle Times, the positivity rate has reached more than 40 percent at south King County testing sites.
Since forecasting an end to a virus wave isn’t realistic, the pro sports leagues are seeking to muddle through. The CDC’s recommendation Monday to permit shortening the quarantine period from 10 days to five was eagerly adopted by the leagues, which are able to get players back to the the action more quickly.
But even if the CDC change had happened before the Rams game, it wouldn’t have helped Lockett.
“I feel like with the new rule, if I had five days to be able to play, it would have been a long shot,” he said, “because I still was dealing with stuff.”
We’re all still dealing with stuff. As long as the sports leagues aren’t volunteering to shut down until the latest virus storm passes, a fact of sports life will be the virus temporarily picking off athletes and games, one at a time or in bunches, hoping fans don’t notice or care enough to tune out.
Hey, fantasy team owners: For the sake of Lockett and all athletes, try not to whine on social media.