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. 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 returning to training without her teammates and preparing for what is arguably the most important game of the season 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 may be ready to return to Scott Stadium to play James Madison. Maybe.
Barry Svrluga: In Virginia, a soccer team and their coach are confronted with the unimaginable
Skeptics brought up the case of the 1990 Loyola Marymount men’s basketball team, who were playing at the NCAA tournament 12 days after Hank Gathers collapsed 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 region finals. No question, that was an inspiring story.
But citing such an example ignores the fact that the rest of the WCC tournament was canceled after the Gathers collapse. None of the four remaining teams wanted to play after his death. Besides, Gathers wasn’t killed. 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 her potential opponents. Coastal Carolina, a star Sun Belt Conference team, were due to make their grand entrance on an ACC stage, but the Chanticleers would certainly 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, including the three players killed – D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr. even higher at the end of a disappointing season for each team. Under normal circumstances, the Commonwealth Cup might have offered the first-year coach at each school a chance at redemption.
But normalcy 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 Washington.
Virginia held an emotional and moving memorial service for the three players at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday rather than hosting Coastal Carolina at Scott Stadium. It was the right thing, but it wasn’t the end. It was just a start. A moment of silence that afternoon or that 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 are part of a much larger problem that should have been addressed in this country long ago.
Six days after the Charlottesville killings, another shooting broke out, this time at a Colorado Springs bar, killing five people by a gunman 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 the gunman had threatened her with bombs and guns. No arrest was made; no weapons were taken away.
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.