The news hit with a somber jolt. The Wild, in midgame, announced that first-round draft pick Marco Rossi had returned home to Austria to recover after experiencing complications from COVID-19.
This wasn’t some random transaction notice. Not a knee sprain, or a player being suspended. This was a 19-year-old professional athlete being shut down from activity after a physical flagged something wrong a few months after he was diagnosed with the virus and had seemingly recovered.
The reaction in sports is often robotic when a player suffers an injury that will sideline him or her for an extended period. Tough break, good luck in rehab, see you next season, next player up.
This is not that. This can’t be that.
That message reverberated again Wednesday with news that five more Wild players were added to the league’s COVID protocol list, prompting the team to pause competition until next week.
The Wild played Tuesday and then shut down 24 hours later. An outbreak can happen that quickly. The health of those involved becomes the immediate focus.
Thankfully, the news on Rossi’s prognosis sounds encouraging. His agent, Serge Payer, confirmed in a phone conversation this week that Rossi is supposed to rest for six weeks but that he’s confident the young center’s career will continue as planned after this delay.
“I feel very comfortable communicating that at this time,” Payer said. “I have spoken to numerous [doctors] involved and I think the unknown will remain the unknown in the short term, but I am very optimistic.”
The Wild and Payer did not disclose specifics about Rossi’s case, in part because they are still waiting for more medical information. The problem was detected during a physical as Rossi was set to join the team at training camp following the World Junior Championships. The Athletic reported the diagnosis came after cardiac screening and blood tests mandated by the NHL for players who have tested positive.
“He didn’t necessarily have any symptoms,” Payer said. “Next thing you know, you’re not cleared in your medical.”
This scenario has been my biggest fear since sports resumed last summer, the unknowns regarding potential long-term health issues. I applauded sports leagues for forging ahead during the pandemic, but that unanswerable question — are there long-term effects on the body that we don’t know yet? — has been a regular thought in my head.
The Big Ten initially canceled its football season after reports emerged tying COVID to the heart disease myocarditis. The league reversed its decision, but only after mandating a 21-day recovery period so that those who test positive can undergo cardiac screening.
Many criticized that recovery period as being too long, myself included, arguing that other conferences had a shorter return-to-play policy and that there were varying medical opinions on the link between myocarditis and COVID.
The Big Ten made the right call. Why not take every precaution necessary in the face of so much medical uncertainty? Put it this way: What is more important, making sure a kid’s heart is OK or having him available for the Purdue game? Sometimes we all need a reality check.
Rossi’s case also is a reminder that not everyone recovers at the same rate. There is no definitive timeline with this virus, even if medical data indicates that young, healthy people are unlikely to face serious illness.
Adam Thielen missed one game after being placed in COVID protocol. Karl-Anthony Towns remains sidelined after announcing on Jan. 15 that he had tested positive. And Rossi was shut down because of complications.
Three professional athletes. Three different experiences.
The unpredictability of any one case demands patience and empathy. Just because many athletes recover quickly or experience minor, if any, symptoms, that does not guarantee that every case will follow suit.
Towns joined the Wolves on their current road trip, creating the impression that he will resume playing again shortly. He was not in the lineup Wednesday at San Antonio but was shown on TV sitting with teammates on the bench in Cleveland earlier this week.
That’s certainly encouraging news. Updates on his status provided by the team inevitably have stirred some variation of the same question on social media: “When is KAT going to be back?”
The correct answer is that he will be back when he’s ready. Nobody in this situation should have their timetable governed by a calendar.