How does blaming Rudy Gobert help solve the corona virus emergency?

We are facing something much, much more serious, and we should understand that 

“Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert was tested positive for coronavirus.” It was breaking news on March 11, that literally broke the NBA. Not only did it lead to the abrupt cancellation of the Jazz – Thunder game and the Pelicans – Kings game which were just about to tip off when the news broke, it resulted in the suspension of the remaining NBA season.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wasted no time to suspend the season when he learnt about Gobert’s situation.

The remainder of the NBA season suddenly disappeared in a blink of an eye, but people praised Adam Silver’s decisiveness. No one wants to be infected.

But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with the situation. Gobert is put in a difficult situation, as many saw him the culprit/villain who singlehandedly jeopardized the organization of Utah Jazz and the NBA – he was seen behaving carelessly before he knew he was infected – although there is no evidence that his irresponsiveness was the direct reason why he got the virus, and his teammate Donovan Mitchell was also infected (no other Jazz traveling crew was tested positive.) 

It’s extremely difficult to deal with something like coronavirus, because you cannot see your enemies – where they are, how many of they are, and how dangerous they are. It’s hard not to panic when you face such a big threat that could be hiding right next to you when there is no way you can know it before it’s too late.

When people panic, they subconsciously try to find tentative enemies you can actually see and/or communicate with, so that they can throw their frustration at them. So they go to other people – people who were believed to have been associated with transmitting viruses, and start attacking them. The NBA world had Rudy Gobert. Asians are being assaulted everywhere in the world. 

But attacking tentative enemies cannot solve fundamental problems no matter how hard you try. The threat we face is simply much bigger. Even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, experts already knew that the Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs), especially zoonotic ones that are transmitted from animals – coronavirus is one of them – were rapidly increasing.

EcoHealth Alliance, based in New York, is a global environmental health nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and public health from the emergence of disease. For decades, they have been working on so-called emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) such as  HIV, SARS, Ebola, MARS and most recently, the novel coronavirus. They have been collecting worldwide data what kind of viruses are increasing, where they came from and how they were transmitted to humans. When they mapped out the info, it became obvious that it had to do with aggressive economic activities that have been clearing wild habitats in tropic regions acres after acres. As it had been difficult to access before, we knew little about those regions including the fact that they were home to a countless number of unknown dangerous pathogens. By clearing their otherwise secluded habitats, we inadvertently gave the viruses ample opportunities to step out and find new host in animals, and then in peoples. 

We will contain the current corona down the road, but then there will be another one at some point, which could well be stronger than corona. Just like pests and weeds that are unbelievably resilient to respond to ever-stronger pesticides and herbicides, viruses can evolve to overcome hurdles to come to humans. For example, it is believed  that it’s usually not easy for the viruses that infect animals to jump to humans. But some of them somehow figure it out and become deadly viruses such as HIV – which managed to to jump from chimpanzees to humans. Those are the power of nature humans don’t know well.

It is the new reality we all share in which there will be another Goberts, as the “we” inevitably includes all kinds of people – cautious, reckless, educated, uneducated, caring, selfish, healthy, sick, young, old, insured or uninsured. Viruses don’t care who you are, as far as you serve as a convenient host.

We could minimize the spread, but we won’t be able to eliminate all of them, UNLESS we decide to keep natural habitats untouched and let deadly pathogens stay isolated from us.

We sure can learn from Rudy Gobert’s mistakes. But we cannot dwell on the hypothesis that “the NBA or other sports didn’t have to close down if Gobert didn’t behave irresponsibly.” The statistical probability was already high; If it wasn’t Gobert, it could have been someone else. If it wasn’t the NBA, it could have been other sports. If it wasn’t sports, it could have been other entertainment.  

We cannot afford to waste our time blaming each other. The next virus may already be in line, ready to sneak into our world. If social distancing is so effective, it’s time to seriously start thinking about how we can leave enough distance between our communities and pathogen-rich wild habitats. Unless we fix the root cause, we will face the same situation again.