Monday, January 18, 2021

College sports has temporarily dodged bullet with Florida’s Keyontae Johnson.

January 8, 2021 by  
Filed under Health, News, Opinion, Sports, Weekly Columns

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( It’s a new year and 2021 brings both uncertainty and hope. The year 2020 was dominated by the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus. There was no industry on Earth that was not significantly impacted by COVID-19. Athletes were physically impacted and even emotionally impacted as in the story of Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns, who lost his mother to COVID-19, and has been very public in his struggles with that loss and other deaths from coronavirus in his family. One of the scariest sports moments of 2020 was on December 12, 2020 when the University of Florida played Florida State University in men’s college basketball. The score and winner of the game was not important as when star Florida forward Keyontae Johnson suddenly collapsed on the court and was hospitalized. When the event happened, it was scary and brought up a lot of questions about what happened to Johnson. Since the incident, he was released from the hospital but the diagnosis of Johnson was eye-opening and was another reminder of the seriousness of COVID-19.

Keyontae Johnson is a Florida Gators men’s basketball player who is a junior from Norfolk, Virginia. He earned All-SEC honors in his sophomore campaign after leading the Gators with 14.0 points per game. In early December before his collapse, Johnson was predicted by some to be a possible first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, which would guarantee him millions of dollars the next couple of years. Unfortunately, his basketball season is now over as he was placed in a medically induced coma following the scary incident and diagnosed with a heart condition related to COVID-19, acute myocarditis, a disorder that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. Although Keyontae Johnson is not the stereotype of the person who would suffer potentially life-threatening issues related to COVID-19 as a 21-year old athlete who is physically fit, he had serious issues.

Florida’s Keyontae Johnson

College sports had different questions to ask itself than professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL about playing sports in a pandemic. Professional athletes are adults being financially compensated to play sports while college athletes have much less power due to lack of multi-year contracts, no salaries, and no union representation. The worry about acute myocarditis as it relates to college athletes is that if it is undetected, it could lead to heart failure or sudden death as we came dangerously close in the case of Keyontae Johnson. There was a reason why some college conferences refrained from playing college football during last fall before switching course.

College basketball coaches including arguably the most famous of them all, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, are raising legitimate questions about the 2020-21 college basketball season given the fluctuating numbers of Americans getting coronavirus. The situation was serious enough at Duke that the women’s basketball team canceled the remainder of its season around Christmas 2020. Before they canceled the season, Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson said, “I don’t think we should be playing right now. That’s my opinion on it”. The coronavirus vaccine might make a difference regarding sports fans attending games but there are legitimately ethical questions about giving vaccines to college athletes.

The Keyontae Johnson story does have some good news as he has rejoined the Florida men’s basketball working as a coach in practice. Johnson’s basketball playing career is up in the air but it would be a sad story if his professional basketball career ended in such a frightening fashion. College sports and the NCAA should look at his recovery and count its blessings that it wasn’t worse.

Staff Writer; Mark Hines

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