In 1941, Joe DiMaggio was named the American League MVP for the second time in his career after leading the New York Yankees to their fifth World Series victory in six years. During that year, he established a major league record by getting a hit in 56 straight games, a mark that still stands and is considered by many baseball fans to be the most impressive achievement in the games’ history. A few months after that season ended, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. From 1943-1945, DiMaggio did not play a single game in the major leagues. He, along with over 500 other major league baseball players, joined the war effort and enlisted in the US Military.
In this respect, the sacrifices we are called to make in the coming weeks find historical precedent. At the height of his athletic prowess, DiMaggio stepped away from the game to serve his nation. At this uncertain moment in our nation’s history, we, too, must rise and face squarely the challenge before us.
Of course, the enemy we face is a very different one than the villainous Nazis and their Axis-power partners. Our enemy is not a foreign military force but a global pandemic, and the fight is one the nations of the world are in together. And while we will not be shipping off to fight battles on foreign soil, it is important now as it was then to recognize the seriousness of our foe and to do our part in helping to reduce its threat.
I offer this historical context not to lessen the pain of losing the opportunity to compete at the Indoor Conference Championships (which, in itself, pales next to what is being faced by our nations’ best collegiate athletes) but rather to help you better appreciate that there will be tremendous purpose behind your action, even if the action required of you at this point in time is simply to minimize contact with others, avoid large groups, pay especially close attention to hygiene and physical well-being.
Please understand that by giving up the beloved opportunities to compete in championship competitions, by avoiding our usual meeting places like schools or houses of worship, by cancelling spring break trips and remaining largely house-bound, we are making the nation safer for our most vulnerable citizens. This includes people like my daughter Alexis. As most of you know, Alexis and her twin sister Beatrix were born extremely prematurely, which meant their lungs did not have enough time to fully develop. We lost our beloved Beatrix in October of 2018 after a virus wracked her tiny lungs and she couldn’t recover. For reasons too complicated to explain here, Alexis’s lungs were slightly more developed than Bea’s at birth, and she has grown into a wonderful little girl full of enthusiasm and energy. She brings light into our home every day with her infectious laugh, wondrous vocabulary, and determined will. But her path hasn’t been easy either. Alexis weighed less than a pound and a half at birth, and spent the first two months of her life hooked up to a ventilator. Since her release from the NICU around Christmas of 2017, she has been hospitalized at least five times, requiring ventilation on more than one occasion. Just two months ago, at the beginning of the second semester, she contracted the flu and another virus and spent an entire week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, requiring ventilation.
So let me express my gravest fear about the spread of the Coronavirus as it pertains to the impact it could have on my family and others like ours. What concerns me is what might happen should Alexis contract a respiratory illness – Corona or other – that makes her sick enough to need a ventilator. If COVID-19 spreads as rapidly as some models predict, there will not be enough ventilators for all patients who need them. What then?
While it is entirely appropriate to mourn lost opportunities, it is important to also take solace in knowing our actions can save lives. By acting aggressively, we can slow the spread of the virus, and hopefully prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Throughout the time we have spent together, we have often preached a few messages which bear repeating right now: be selfless; adapt to the situation. We are called now to put our own desires on hold for the good of our brethren. We should not – we will not – feel self-pity. We will wake up each morning with resolve, tackle the challenges of each day to the best of our ability, and strive to remain positive and be there for each other in spirit if we can’t be there for each other in person.
After the war, DiMaggio played six more years, led the Yanks to the world title four times, and was named MVP again in 1947. Then, three years after retirement, he married Marilyn Monroe. Brighter days returned to DiMaggio and to America. They will for us as well.