Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The internet lasts forever.

And that’s a lesson that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has unfortunately learned. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it. But for those that haven’t, there’s a video of Gobert “jokingly” touching every microphone and piece of recording equipment after he finished a recent interview session with the media.

In his mind, he thought making light of the COVID-19 situation was funny. Two days later, Gobert became the first player in the NBA to test positive for the virus and passed it to his teammate Donovan Mitchell.

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“I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of concern and support over the last 24 hours. I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis…mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment,” Gobert wrote on his Instagram page. “The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse. I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously. I will do whatever I can to support using my experience as a way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus.”

Gobert’s apology feels sincere. But does it mean all is forgiven?

But his teammate, who was also infected, doesn’t seem too happy with Gobert.

“Thanks to everyone who has been reaching out since hearing the news about my positive test. We are all learning more about the seriousness of this situation and hopefully people can continue to educate themselves and realize that they need to behave responsibly both for their own health and for the well-being of those around them,” wrote Mitchell in his own statement via Instagram.

As you can tell, Mitchell is still a bit salty about the whole situation, especially since there were reports that Gobert “had been careless in the locker room touching other players and their belongings.” And while it’s been decided that the NBA will not be disciplining Gobert, it doesn’t mean that he’s escaped reproach.

“The mental side of being the first person to have it and there being a viral video of you mocking the illness is enough to weigh on a man, especially somebody who has the mental makeup that Rudy Gobert has,” Tony Jones, Utah Jazz beat writer for The Athletic, told me. “He’s suffered more than any suspension could give him.”

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Jones is currently isolated in quarantine. It’s been that way since he flew back on the team’s charter plane from Wednesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder that was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t hold any ill will towards Rudy for what he did,” said Jones. “He likely contracted the virus on the previous road trip the week before. And I think the beating he’s taken on social media has been unfair.”

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“Some of (the backlash) is fair because he did it on tape. I get that it’s the social media era and it’s easy for the pitchforks to come out,” Jones continued. “But here’s my thing: I don’t think any of us were taking this thing seriously enough. Because if we were, we might not be in the current situation we’re in.”

Right now, we’re seeing NBA players like Kevin Love, Zion Williamson, Blake Griffin, and Giannis Antetokounmpo follow the lead of Dallas Mavericks Governor Mark Cuban by donating money to pay arena workers, as they’re currently out of work. Once again, players in this league are using their platforms for charitable and humanitarian efforts.

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How will the players around the NBA feel about Jazz center Rudy Gobert when basketball returns?
How will the players around the NBA feel about Jazz center Rudy Gobert when basketball returns?
Photo: Getty

And now Gobert is following suit, donating $500,000 to those impacted by the virus “in Utah, Oklahoma City and within the French health care system,” read a statement on the Jazz’s website. And $200,000 of that half-a-million will go to part-time employees in Utah.

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How much goodwill can $500,000 buy in his locker room and around the league?

Will Mitchell and his teammates be able to come together and accept Gobert? Will other players in the league be willing to excuse his carelessness?

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Those answers remain to be seen. However, it’s not like we haven’t been here before. Because this same franchise was in a similar position during the early ’90s.

“Look at this, scabs and cuts all over me. I get these every night, every game. They can’t tell you that you’re not at risk, and you can’t tell me there’s one guy in the NBA who hasn’t thought about it.”

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Those were the words of former Jazz great Karl Malone when it was decided that Magic Johnson was coming back to the NBA, despite having H.I.V. Back then, H.I.V/AIDS was the global virus that had everyone in a panic. We didn’t know much about it, or how it was contracted, though doctors said Johnson could play without being a danger to other players. There was a lot of careless and uninformed behavior like Malone’s.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, the panic around HIV subsided as we learned more about the virus. Over time, people’s stances began to soften, and ones with the disease weren’t treated as lepers anymore. Hopefully, the same thing happens this time, but at a faster pace due to modern medicine.

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Only the future knows how Gobert will be received in NBA circles. Because when your greatest sin can be played back on repeat, it tends to slow down the process of forgiveness.

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