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To our young athletes, unable to play:

For mostly preventable reasons, you have been forced to the sidelines. The mercurial tints and hues of the map have canceled the game.

You may rightly ask who deserves the blame for your contests getting sacked by a microscopic linebacker, spiked to the deck by an invisible opponent. No one is to blame for COVID-19, but many share the responsibility for how they answered its challenge, starting at the top.

In February, the president privately told author Bob Woodward, “This virus is a killer.” Yet, just two weeks later, he publicly announced, “One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.” And he termed the deadly disease the new “hoax” of the Democrats. Six months later, as your fall sports were gearing up, he said of COVID-19, “It’s under control,” which was not the reality.

Along the way, Mr. Trump announced bogus “cures” and touted no-nothing “experts.” He held rallies at which efforts at masking and distancing were as solid as a Rudolph Giuliani voter fraud case. Meanwhile, COVID-19 was the quarterback who was unleashing a 50-yard bomb and hitting its receiver in the hands. Politicians beyond the president, too numerous to mention, played dumb, or were dumb, regarding the virus, as well.

But save some of the blame for white nationalists, American Nazis, Proud Boys and other mouth breathers who, in their underdeveloped yet self-assured way, crowded together to spew both hate and COVID-19. These irony-challenged souls shouted their devotion to “freedom” while flinging themselves like slaves at the feat of an authoritarian strongman wannabe.

As an aside, the Black Lives Matter demonstrators appeared to be far more likely to wear masks and maintain at least a modicum of distancing, not to mention dignity.

Young athletes, please do not forget the culpability of the virus-spreaders for whom shoulder-to-shoulder bar and restaurant schmoozing was more important than your schedule of games. Add to your list the sitcoms, dramas and advertisements whose failure to incorporate masks and distancing contributed to the carefree zeitgeist. They failed you too. And steadily, noiselessly, the virus bided its time, scanning the horizon for an opportunity to pounce. Its wait would be brief.

Prior to Memorial Day, COVID-19 had remained somewhat contained, with about 50 cases a week in West Virginia. But as folks either denied or underplayed the virus, its case numbers began to escalate. In June, they hit a hundred a week. Then came Independence Day, summer vacations and Labor Day celebrations. The virus enjoyed the summer too, upping its toll to around 200 a week by mid-September.

Gov. Jim Justice appeased some of your fellow athletes, and their moms and dads, by creating yet another color on the map, an effort that achieved exactly its intended result — the illusion that it was safe to play.

But by late October, the boiling virus soup had taken the state’s case count to about 300 a week. Days later, it jumped again, to 400. As this is being written, more than 1,000 West Virginians test positive for COVID-19 on a given day, with a parallel rise in death rates.

Thus, you, our high school athletes, should know that it isn’t your fault. Rather, it is your bad luck to be saddled with the personal fouls, the net serves and the missed calls by those who should have provided you with better leadership. They fumbled away far too many opportunities to win the game.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University. Reach him at Wyatt@Marshall.edu.