My Quarantined Life as an American Athlete in Italy During the Coronavirus Pandemic
We were a little past the halfway mark into the season. I’m currently in my 9th professional season; the first with Costa Masnaga, situated 40 minutes outside of Milan. And like the rest of the world we started hearing about a highly contagious disease that was spreading like wildfire in China. Truthfully, most of us didn’t pay much attention to it. Like most of the world. We just didn’t think that it would make its way here.
But then it did. From March 1st to March 8th the cases in Italy jumped from 1.7K cases to 7.4K in one week and since then I’ve been in full quarantine lockdown in the Lombardy region, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak not just for Italy but for all of Europe.
Around the middle of February, we heard about a case right near Milan. But even then a lot of us thought, they’ll treat them, it’s basically a bad flu, we’ll be fine. But some teammates took the news much more seriously. They had been paying attention to the news more closely and some of them expressed their concerns to management.
One of my teammates even constantly washed her hands, wiped things down with rubbing alcohol and changed her shirts when they got sweaty. Most of us just laughed at her.
Soon enough our laughs stopped. It hit Italy, especially our region, hard and spread rapidly. We knew it was a problem. A serious one. We were in a red zone. Quickly our attitudes, mentalities, and actions changed. A team from southern Italy came to play against us and we could tell they were nervous to be in our city. We could tell they didn’t want to play us. The game was played in front of zero fans. Even the mayor of the city came to make sure that only those authorized to be there were the only ones in attendance. It was a surreal experience. The game didn’t even have the intensity of a scrimmage. You could tell everyone’s minds were elsewhere. When the opposing team returned to their city they had to be quarantined for 14 days for having been in our region.
Soon enough all our practices and games were canceled. One of our teammates was pretty sick for about a week. I don’t know if she had the virus but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. The city and the areas around us started shutting down as well. The word pandemic was being used more. One of my American teammates decided to opt-out of her contract and go back home to be with her family. Then our season was suspended.
At first, I thought it would be like a two-week ordeal and I was planning a quick vacation out of the country. I pictured myself working out and relaxing on the beaches of Bali. But slowly I realized that wouldn’t be possible. More and more countries were shutting their borders and banning flights from hot spots around the world like mine.
In the beginning, I was pretty annoyed at the team and the league. I felt like they had waited too long to make a decision. And now us players were stuck, some like myself far from home. Some of the non-Italian players wouldn’t even be let into their countries even if they had tried to go back. There was just a lot of questions in the air. When would we play again? Is the season going to be canceled? Would we be getting paid our full salaries?
After a few days of the official full quarantine, I started getting into a groove. Not that I had much of a choice. I took advantage of my free time. Netflix. Cooking. Wine. Listening to the birds in the backyard. My body was also able to recover from all the minutes I’d been putting in this season. I did miss basketball though I think as a pro athlete your body craves the action and expects it in a way and knows when it’s missing something that’s been a big part of your whole life.
So I just channeled that energy into other aspects of my well being. I got back to incorporating meditation into my morning routine. I started really focusing on Wevolv and trying to connect with more athletes since most overseas athletes were in similar situations of limbo. I even got some photoshoots done in the house. Of course, I tried to get some light workouts in too.
I noticed that some teams were taking advantage of the fact that we were in a pandemic and were looking for ways to not fulfill their contracts with their players. And some of it was on the low, some of them were encouraging players to leave in the guise of looking out for their safety when in fact they were trying to get the players to breach their contracts leaving the teams off the hook. Whenever I would talk to a fellow athlete about their situation I would encourage them to review their contracts and stay on their agents to keep them up to date on their options and what would happen if they were to go back home. What would happen if they left but the season came back?
I know not all overseas athletes have had experiences like mine. I know I’m blessed to be in a place with good weather and to be surrounded by nature. Also, the city I’m in isn’t that big and there isn’t panic in the streets. Sure it’s quiet, few people in the streets and we have to wait in line to go to the grocery stores but I haven’t really felt like I’m living in the epicenter of the pandemic. I’m also lucky to have a teammate who I’ve been spending time with here. I know not everyone has that. I can imagine that being stuck indoors for weeks with a roommate you don’t get along with could drive you crazy or even being alone for weeks could also do the same.
Some of you may be wondering, Jori why didn’t you try to leave and get back the States? Truthfully, I feel safer here. The cases continue to grow but there’s still a sense of control and we pretty much stay inside unless we are getting groceries. I wouldn’t want to risk catching the virus on my travel back to the States and pass it on to my family members. Imagine if that happened? I don’t know if I could forgive myself. Of course, I miss them and want to be with them.
It’s been 18 days since I’ve played in a game or practiced. For us female basketball players overseas we are facing a very uncertain professional future as the Coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly wreak havoc on the global economy and most of the teams we play for rely heavily on corporate sponsorships and not on ticket sales. And it’s very likely that many teams and even leagues may not be able to return next year potentially leaving thousands of elite athletes unemployed.
And before I go, a few words of encouragement for my fellow elite athletes all over the world who may be in quarantine or in self-isolation during this pandemic…try and take your time to breathe, collect your thoughts and make sure you’re not making any career decisions out of fear or panic. For you younger players try to reach out to a veteran (you guys know that my DMs are always open for you) to get some advice on what moves you should make. Right off the top, as mentioned before, review your contract, carefully. See if it’s guaranteed, look for any clauses that may help or hurt you during this time.
Obviously most of us are not going to be able to work out physically as much as we could before. Well, then you have the time now to work out mentally. As your body heals and recuperates take the time to read or pick up a new hobby. There are different ways for us to work out.
And stay in contact with your agent. Get a sense of what could happen for you next year. It’s likely they won’t have clear answers either as so many things are up in the air but if you can’t get in contact with them, if they’re not responding to you during this time then maybe it’s time you start looking for a new agent.
But most importantly, stay safe. Stay healthy. Make good decisions. And I hope to see all of you back on the court when all of this is over. And let’s stay in contact.