When Virginia announced this week that it would also cancel its season finale against Virginia Tech, more doubts surfaced: Didn’t the team have enough time, they asked, to “recover” from the shock of the killings?
The truth is there is never enough. There is no expiration date for trauma recovery. Everyone in Virginia – not just the football team – will wear this for the rest of their lives. Anyone who judges the players, the coaches or the school simply doesn’t understand it.
The idea of going back to training and preparing for the most important game of the season without her teammates was just too much of a good thing. Nine months after going through an offseason of mourning, spring training and preseason training, the Cavaliers could be ready to open the 2023 season against Tennessee in Nashville. A week later, they might be ready to return to Scott Stadium to face James Madison. Maybe.
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Some skeptics brought up the case of the 1990 Loyola-Marymount men’s basketball team, which competed in the NCAA tournament 12 days after teammate Hank Gathers suffered a heart attack on the court during a West Coast Conference tournament semifinals and died shortly thereafter . The Lions beat New Mexico State and then stunned defending champion Michigan and defeated Alabama before losing to UNLV in the regional finals. No question, that was an inspiring story.
But citing such an example ignores the fact that the WCC tournament was canceled after the Gathers collapse. Nobody on any of the four remaining teams wanted to play after Gathers died. Besides, Gathers wasn’t murdered. His death was tragic, but it wasn’t an act of violence by another student in front of other students. You can’t measure the level of tragedy, but the widespread trauma of the Virginia shooting clearly continues to resonate in the football program and beyond.
Virginia’s decision was also respectful of would-be opponents. A premier Sun Belt Conference team, Coastal Carolina should have caught a moment on an ACC stage, but surely the Chanticleers should have thought more of the players in opposing uniforms still grappling with fresh horror.
The same goes for Virginia Tech, in some cases in an even more personal way. Many of the Hokies know many of the Cavaliers and were aware of the three players killed – D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis. At the end of disappointing seasons for both teams, the competitive stakes of this rivalry game, typically the emotional high point of the season, would have been even higher in some ways. Under normal circumstances, the Commonwealth Cup might have offered the first-year coaches of both schools a chance for some sort of redemption.
But normality faded on November 13 when Christopher Darnell Jones allegedly opened fire on that bus as it arrived back in Charlottesville after a trip to a play in downtown Washington.
Virginia held an emotional and moving memorial service for the three players at John Paul Jones Arena last Saturday, rather than hosting Coastal Carolina just over a mile away at Scott Stadium.
It was the right thing, but it wasn’t the end. It was just a start. A moment of silence this afternoon or next Saturday would have felt empty. The players knew that and fortunately so did the school officials.
Officials in Virginia admitted they knew Jones was convicted of a concealed weapons charge and received a 12-month suspended sentence in 2021, but did not go any further.
The lack of penalties for gun charges and the ease with which people can acquire guns is a much bigger problem that should have been addressed in this country long ago and remains a giant elephant in the country’s room.
Five days after the Charlottesville shooting, another mass murder occurred, this time at a Colorado Springs bar: five dead and 17 wounded by a man who was carrying multiple weapons, including a semi-automatic. A year earlier, the mother of the suspected gunman called police to her home and said her son had threatened her with bombs and guns. No arrest was made; no weapons were taken away. The Colorado Springs mass shooting was the sixth of its kind Month — and that was before Tuesday night’s incident at a Chesapeake Walmart.
Virginia’s football players who didn’t have a game to play on Saturday were able to return to their homes for Thanksgiving. This weekend and next week, many will be attending the funerals of their three fallen teammates.
These funerals will be another step in the healing process. After that, it’s going to be a long, long way.