Showing grace in a difficult time

As sports return, let us remember no one has all the answers to reopening

Commentary by John Herndon,


High school and college sports are finally back. Well, sort of, at least.

While some states have been playing most or all sports for several weeks now, Kentucky high schools have been on the sidelines — with the exception of distancing-friendly golf — since March 12, when the state abruptly halted the girls’ state basketball tournament five games into the first round. 

There was no girls’ state champion crowned. The boys’ tournament, scheduled for the next week, was completely wiped out. There were no spring sports at all and off-season workouts were halted, then resumed under very strict guidelines designed to limit person-to-person contact. Fall sports have been delayed and there are questions if winter sports (basketball, wrestling and swimming) will be played as we know them.

But you already knew all that.

A similar story unfolded at the college level too. The SEC Tournament stopped after two games. The ACC Tournament got through the second round before heading home. There was no NCAA Tournament. No College World Series. No anything.  The Big 10, Pac-12, Mid-American and Mountain West conferences have all decided against playing football this fall. Some individual institutions have followed suit. 

And, of course, the SEC has gone to a 10-game, conference-only schedule. 

All of those actions were taken to halt the spread of a virus we are still trying to figure out. Whether they were the right calls or not is open to a debate that I won’t entertain here. 

But you already knew all that too.

It’s beginning to change. Saturday, the Eastern Kentucky Colonels will travel to Marshall to kick off the football season on ESPN. Eastern is bucking the Ohio Valley Conference with hastily-made 8-game schedule. Next week, the Colonels will be heading to West Virginia for another nationally-televised game (FS1) against the Mountaineers. When was the last time EKU football was on major networks two consecutive weekends?

And, of course, the high schools can get at it next week. Soccer, volleyball, field hockey and cross country can begin competitions on Monday with football kicking off Friday. From this corner, it’s great that kids can somewhat get back to being kids. A whole lot of people agree with me.

But I also know that a whole lot of people disagree and believe that sports should remain on the sidelines, at least until schools return to meeting in person (Sept. 28 in most areas of Kentucky) or until a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available. I understand those sentiments and respect them, even though I don’t fully agree.

But as the games begin and we start this long process toward something normal again, my prayer is that we show some grace to all involved. We are living through a medical situation that none of us have experienced before. There are many unknowns out there and no one has all the answers.

While I understand the concerns some have when it comes to high contact sports such as football and soccer, I just can’t see keeping everything shut down. Yes, COVID-19 is real. Yes, it can be serious, even fatal. And yes, there are still questions about the long-term effects of COVID. And, yes, the chances of being infected with COVID, or any other contagious disease for that matter, increase with contact.

But at the same time, the chances of being infected are still low. If infected, the chances of complete recovery are very high. Even when taking all of the known precautions, people are still infected.

And chances are you knew that. The differences in opinions come in how best to deal with those realities and we need to recognize that. From my perch on the sidelines, I can’t justify keeping things shut down indefinitely.

At the high school level, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has left the implementation of fan attendance to the individual schools. There are some universal guidelines such as mask-wearing and temperature checks, but attendance protocols will vary from school to school. For example, ticket vouchers distributed to players will be very common, but through my contacts, I have seen some schools offering two, others four and some six. 

Seating and accommodating visiting fans will vary from school to school since some schools have large stadiums or gyms while others are small and compact. 

Let’s just remember that a one-size approach does not fit all. 

And let us also remember that school administrators are in what is almost a no-win situation. Not everyone will be happy. Some family members won’t be able to watch their favorite players. Families at some schools will be able to participate more than other schools. And, even with stringent protocols in force, some people are going to get sick while others won’t.

Most of all, I pray each person understands that when we show Christian character, when we extend grace, then regardless of what happens in the world, we can impact people for Christ.


As of this writing, I am still not sure what my GameDay schedule will be for this fall. Obviously, if I am contracted for a freelance writing opportunity, I plan to be at that game. Other than that, I plan to be very flexible. Given social distancing guidelines, my Game Day attendance will be limited. 

We will continue to pursue feature stories at the high school and college levels. Those can be completed away from game times and within health department guidelines with some minor adjustments.  Just let us know if you have a great story idea.  

THANK YOU for your support.

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