I can still see it.
I can see his eyes focus after throwing down an alley-oop dunk. I can see his awareness, as his mind flips to defense, his hands on his thighs, his body leaning in. And then, as he turns away from the camera, without warning, he is gone.
His body crumbling to the ground, never to rise again.
This is how it ended for Hank Gathers, an all-world forward for Loyola Marymount and one of the best players in the nation, felled in the prime of his life by a heart disease called myocarditis.
The year was 1990, thirty years ago. He was only 23. The video of Gathers’ collapse is disturbing.
Three years later it was Reggie Lewis, a slashing guard of the Boston Celtics by way of Baltimore’s legendary Dunbar High School hoops factory.
Lewis died during a practice. He was just 27.
Both players had collapsed previously due to their condition, Lewis stumbled to the ground during a playoff game. Both players returned to the court.
And both players had myocarditis.
If that name sounds familiar of late, it’s because it’s been determined that myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, can be a result of contracting COVID-19. It’s the same condition that the Red Sox’s Eduardo Rodriguez is suffering due to his bout with COVID-19, and the same condition that’s keeping him off the field this season.
A new report shows that five Big Ten athletes have this lethal heart disease, as well as other athletes in other conferences.
In that ESPN report:
Left undiagnosed and untreated, [myocarditis] can cause heart damage and sudden cardiac arrest, which can be fatal. It is a rare condition, but the COVID-19 virus has been linked with myocarditis with a higher frequency than other viruses, based on limited studies and anecdotal evidence since the start of the pandemic.
Ask yourself how you would feel seeing a player return to his feet after streaking through the line and stopping a running back behind the line of scrimmage to see him turn back to the huddle, his legs give, his arms limp by his side as he collapses to the ground and dies on the field.
If you don’t think this is possible, you weren’t alive to remember Gathers and Lewis, and the horror of watching their athletic bodies suddenly go lifeless, as though pulled out from under them. And see it happen right in front of you on live TV.
Every single president of every single university that plays sports had better be thinking of that possibility, they had better be thinking what they’re going to say if they have a Hank Gathers or a Reggie Lewis, and if they’re not, they should resign. Because the idea that COVID-19 has a minimal impact on the younger generation has no more oxygen with this news. The possibility of someone dying due to myocarditis, as a result of COVID-19, is real.
“We have very strong, serious concerns about the potential for COVID to affect athletes cardiovascularly,” said Michael Emery, co-director of the sports cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic to the Washington Post. “When you look at covid in general, there seems to be a higher predilection for involvement with the heart than about any other virus we’ve seen.”
Here’s more from that Washington Post piece.
Emery said cardiological experts worldwide have published five or six significant papers regarding COVID-19 and athletes. “All the papers agree that there should be a heightened level of concern with this virus and cardiac involvement in athletes,” Emery said. While the specifics and suggestions of how to manage the risk differ in those papers, “the overall level of concern is greatly there.”
The Power 5 schools need to walk away from this season. It’s obvious. This is no longer a matter of a player or players contracting the virus, and sitting out for a few weeks. The NFL will face a similar fate, playing outside of a bubble.
There is heart disease to consider. There are long-term effects to consider.
And there is Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis to consider.