54. The Virus Among Us
The truth about the virus plaguing us
We are being consumed by a virus. But you know that. My goal is not to tell you stuff you already know, but to tell you stuff that will make you think. And act.
But first, a quick biology lesson on viruses. This is important, so stick with me.
The Viruses Inside
Viruses have just two purposes in their meager existence: 1) survive and 2) multiply. In order for a virus to survive it must invade an otherwise healthy cell and parasitically take it over. The virus sucks that host cell of all its good and then uses the host cell to accomplish the second purpose: multiplying
You know that dinner scene in the movie Alien where the baby alien comes bursting out of the person's stomach? That's kind of like what happens with viruses. Once the virus has pilfered all the resources it needs from the host cell, it spews out thousands - or millions - of other similar virus cells into the blood stream. Those new viruses then go out on the same mission: parasitically survive and multiply.
We Ain't Afraid of No Virus
The immune system is to viruses like the Ghostbusters are to ghosts. It's the immune system's job to destroy these invaders. When a healthy cell has been breached by a bad virus, the immune system's white cells speed off to the virus location, whip out their microscopic ghostbuster zappers and - zip, zap, zowie - they destroy the bad virus.
But there's a catch...
Sometimes there are viruses (coughCOVIDcough19cough) that are smart enough to use the host cell as a disguise and fool the immune system into believing that nothing is wrong. In these cases, the immune systems virusbusters don't do anything while the viruses quickly multiply and tear the body apart.
You get it? Good.
Biology class over. Now it's time for statistics class.
There is a statistical concept called Regression to the Mean. The purpose of this concept is to help explain aberrations in data.
The basic idea is that when there is an extreme aberration in data, following the aberration there is a tendency for the data to return back to its normal state (the statistical mean).
If we apply this concept to biology, Regression to the Mean will tell us that when there is a biological anomaly, like a worldwide pandemic for instance, the tendency of the virus is for it to mutate into something less deadly and revert back to our normal acting body.
What We Saw in 1919
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic was the most deadly pandemic in recorded human history. Over 500 million people contracted the disease and, at the very low end of analysis, it killed 30 million people. Some reports indicate that as many as 100 million people died from it.
The thing about that pandemic was that it mutated extremely quickly. When it began, it spread very fast. But not many people died in the first wave. The second wave, however. Whoo-eee.
Though the second wave only lasted about two months (October-November, 1918) the vast majority of fatalities happened in that time period. Those two months marked the aberration in data. And then the virus began it's regression back to the mean. Though it had a deadly third wave through February 2019, the deadly influenza virus all but disappeared before there was even a vaccine.
Regression to the mean.
Now that I've said all of that, let's get back to how I started this nonsense.
The Virus Among Us
We are being consumed by a virus. But you know that.
What you don't know is that, despite the biology and statistics lesson you just received, the virus I am referring to is not COVID-19. The virus in our society that I want to discuss is racism.
The reason I gave you the biology and statistics overview is because it describes the way racism has invaded our society and is eating away at our moral fabric. It has acted in the same way a parasitic virus eats away at our cells and then hides itself in plain sight.
The White Virus
It was Albert Einstein who said "Racism is a disease of white people."
And one can easily argue that the virus in America began with the white man's arrival. We arrived here with arrogance - pilfered the land, stole the resources, destroyed the host culture and then we multiplied.
A couple hundred years later, we kidnapped people from Africa, brought them to white America and perpetuated the widespread institutionalism of racism.
Back then, racism was a much more overt virus. It was slavery and whips and lynchings. Our country's immune system - the police, the government, the legal system, ironically named "the white cells" when it refers to biological goodness - didn't counteract the virus.
Since then, the virus integrated itself into our societal bloodstream and has mutated into incarceration, degradation and kneeling on somebody's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while they say they can't breathe.
The Privilege of the White Runner
So how does this relate to our sports industry? As the saying goes, "the way you do one thing is the way you do everything."
Are we, as an industry, overtly and consciously driven by racism? I'd say no.
(Editor's Note: Please keep in mind this is coming from a white male who grew up in an overly caucasian town in Connecticut)
We are an industry that can claim we are not racist, we will argue we are not racist, but what are we really doing to proactively drive inclusion, diversity and anti-racism?
We are an industry where many of the top athletes are people of color, but most of the industry leaders are white men.
There are, of course, pockets of proactive inclusion.
There is Students Run LA (www.srla.org). Among the 3,200 underserved kids that they engage, every year, to train for the LA Marathon, a whopping 95% are people of color.
There is Hoka One (blog.hokaone.com/wordpress/), who walk the talk in their efforts around diversity, inclusive workplaces, gender equality and generally making the world a better, more equitable place.
Regression to the Mean
When we talk about sociology, Regression to the Mean takes on a double meaning.
Remember, the idea of Regression to the Mean is that, when experiencing a set of data that is an aberration from the norm, it is most likely that future data will trend back towards the statistical mean.
We are just over three months from the point at which the global pandemic shut down the US economy. We are just over two weeks from the point at which an unconscionable act turned the US into racial turmoil.
For the aberration in data from one of those viruses, we all desperately want to return back to normal.
For the other virus, there are protests and actions striving to defy the inertia of regressing to the mean. Because the statistical mean of our society when it comes to racism is... well..... mean.
The Viral Paradox
The fact that we have to debate whether or not racism exists in our industry is proof that it does.
I'm not smart enough, diverse enough, powerful enough or egotistical enough to give any answers. Heck, I don't even know the questions. All I can do is help provoke thought.
I believe every white person should read the book "White Fragility". It's a short book written by a white woman who will open your eyes.
It doesn't seem completely coincidental to me that we find ourselves trying to change "normal" societal behavior at the exact same time that we're trying to return to normal societal behavior. We are stuck in a viral paradox - we want to regress to the mean, but we want the mean to be different.
I'm not sure where else to go with this or what else to say, so I'm just going to resort to a common technique of authors who need a better way out. I'm ending this with a thought provoking quote.