Mental health experts explain how sporting event cancellations affect athletes, fans

Mental health experts explain how sporting event cancellations affect athletes, fans

empty basketball court

The traditional thrill of March Madness in the basketball arena has given way to a new kind  of madness this season as novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, spreads. Conference tournaments, along with the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, are canceled because of the public health threat.

University of Louisville mental health experts say these cancellations make a big impact on both student athletes and fans.

UofL sports psychiatrist Christopher K. Peters, MD, says there will definitely be a grieving process for the student athlete.

“These students have and are working toward a high-level goal, which they may not be allowed to continue,” said Peters who is an associate professor of pediatrics at UofL and medical director of outpatient services with Norton Children’s Mental and Behavioral Health Center.

But, Peters points out, “perspective is everything and the grief should be tempered with the understanding that these decisions are made to mitigate a broader health crisis.”

Fans, too, feel the loss. UofL social psychologist Michael Cunningham, PhD, professor, Department of Communications, says fans have worked up to a major point on their calendars for these tournament events.

“People experience group identity and group affirmation as fans of a certain team – it is the gathering together of like-minded people who get a sense of personal validation and testosterone boost when their team wins,” Cunningham said. “It all adds spice to life and when it is taken away, life can be rather bland.”

Cunningham points out bracket fever and the entire support structure of tournament play will be pushed aside, as well.

“For some people it is like canceling Christmas,” he said.