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The Only Thing to Fear

Every time I stepped onto a football field, I knew there was a chance I could be seriously injured, a chance I could be paralyzed for life, a chance I could die. Getting hit by an NFL player is like getting hit by a small car. I knew the risks and I took them anyway. I also knew that if I brought that fear onto the field with me, the chances of serious injury would increase dramatically. Counterintuitively, playing not to get injured causes you to get injured.

President Donald Trump emerged from his 3 day stay at Walter Reed Medical Center after getting treated for the Covid-19 virus tweeting, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

Trump was roundly criticized for this tweet. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said, “Everyone should be afraid of Covid.” Former Senator Claire McCaskill said in response, “Of course, be afraid of Covid.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “be afraid of Covid. It could kill you.”

America Politics have come a long way from Franklin D. Roosevelt affirming statement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That sentiment was a paraphrase of Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself.” And before him, Francis Bacon wrote, “Nothing is terrible except fear itself. Roosevelt knew that fear was the biggest enemy. After the 1929 stock market crash, it was the fear and panic that drove our country into the great depression. FDR’s strong statement against fear, his outward expression of courage is what propelled him to four terms in the White House.

Maybe that was an America of days gone by. If you believe recent polls, America prefers the candidate who has been hiding in his basement for the last 6 months to the candidate who said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

But that is what our politics have become. Cancel culture has made many people afraid to speak or tweet or post for fear that if they do not express the politically correct sentiment, they may lose their career or livelihood. During a time of great advancements in our ability to express ourselves, free and open debate no longer exists in our country.

Safe spaces are the most important things. People need to be socially distanced not just from a deadly virus, but from any thought or idea that could threaten their preconceived notions. There are no vigorous debates anymore just vigorous attacks from inside the safe space of their own echo chambers. Safe spaces are dangerous places, both physically and intellectually.

But there is a push is some states, and by some politicians to lock down the country once again. Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer who has kept her state in perpetual lockdown for months, has said recently, The Department of Health and Human Services, the director, Robert Gordon, have epidemic powers that he can and is using, and I would anticipate more orders even yet today, perhaps, or in the coming days. He can extend those, and I fully anticipate until we have some comfort that we’ve gotten our arms around this disease, that they will be extended.”

Governor Cuomo on Tuesday said to the Jewish community, “If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.” Joe Biden has said, I would shut it (the country) down; I would listen to the scientists. We’re going to do whatever it takes to save lives.” Is this what we want to become? We used to believe what Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Human beings are social animals. We need human connection to survive. Certain animals like cheetahs, white rhinos and giant pandas cannot survive in captivity. The CDC reports that social isolation increases a person’s risk of premature death on the same level as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. For the elderly, there is a 50% percent increased risk of dementia. Social isolation adds a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Social isolation is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Among heart failure patients, social isolation increases risk of death 4 times.

The odds of dying from Covid-19 if you happen to contract it are:

0-19 (1 out of 33,333)

20-49 (1 out of 5,000)

50-69 (1 out of 200)

70+ (5 out of 100)

Compare that to other forms of death.

Car crash (1 in 106)

Falling (1 in 111)

Gun assault (1 in 298)

Pedestrian incident (1 in 541)

Motorcyclist (1 in 890)

Drowning (1 in 1,121)

Fire or smoke (1 in 1,399)

Choking on food (1 in 2,618)

Bicyclist (1 in 4,060)

Sunstroke (1 in 7,770)

We do not shut down the country over these forms of death. We do not prevent people from driving cars, walking the street, riding a motorcycle, swimming, eating or going to the beach. All of these activities have similar death rates to certain age demographics as contracting Covid-19.

Every time you climb into your car, you are risking death. Are you seized up with fear when you turn the key and start the engine? What do we do? We fasten our seat belts, have air bags, and drive the speed limit.

The chances of survival for the soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy was 1 in 4, and only 50% survived. They took that chance with their lives to ensure our freedom, and yet what do we do with that freedom they protected? We are too scared to use it. We are so worried about extending our lives, that we don’t live our lives. A quote attribute Abraham Lincoln sums it up. “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

It takes courage to live life. You have to take risks, and one of those risks is death. The old Latin proverb says, fortune favors the bold.” Michael Jordan puts it this way. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

People may accuse this as being reckless encouraging people to try to resume a normal life in the time of Covid. The leading cause of death for teens between 16-19 is automobile accidents. Are parents who help their child get a license or buy them a car acting recklessly or simply encouraging them to live life?

People die. That’s the fact of life. We all are going to die. That should not stop us from living. It should prevent us from doing reckless things. But there is a lot of life to be found between jumping out of a plane without a parachute and cowering in our basements covered in shrink wrap.

Fear is a tool. It is not a way of life. Fear alerts us to impending danger so we can make prudent decisions. It is not a shutoff switch. It should not engage our fight or flight mechanism, nor should we stand paralyzed like a deer in headlights.

As with all human emotions, we should lean into fear, acknowledge and embrace our fears, so we can navigate our fears like reasonable rational adult human beings, not like a silver back ape pounding his chest with false bravado nor like a mouse cowering in the corner scared of our own shadow. But like a human being. Staring down our fears, understanding our fears, walking hand in hand with our fears so we can experience the full spectrum of what it is to be human and alive.

As Buttermaker, in the 1976 movie The Bad News Bears, said to Timmy Lupus, “you didn't come into this life just to sit around on a dugout bench, did ya? Now get your ass out there and do the best you can.”

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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