Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The period of coronavirus complacency came to a dramatic end in the last 48 hours, as the stock market plunged, states issued grim warnings and schools closed their doors.

Driving the news: But it was the cancellation of sports — March Madness, in particular — that hit the hardest for some Americans, serving as a reality check as to just how serious this situation is.

  • The coronavirus was already changing what we saw on the news and how we did our jobs. Now, it's keeping us from the things we do to get by. Suddenly, something that brings people together is keeping us apart.

The big picture: In the time of a pandemic, sports are both insignificant and powerful.

  • On one hand, we're reminded of how little sports matter in the grand scheme of things, and that the institutions we've built up around them — leagues, franchises, TV networks — are no different than any other businesses.
  • On the other hand, sports are where we turn when times get tough, so now that they won't be there to entertain us through stories and links us through fandom, we're reminded of the comfort and powerful perspective they provide.

The bottom line: It's in this moment that leagues, commissioners, athletes and other sports figures have the power to lead by example and change the minds of people who lack perspective on this worldwide crisis.

  • Jerry Brewer, WashPost: "If a global health crisis doesn't provide the inspiration to be more than a money-printing diversion, then these games aren’t worthy of all the attention."
  • Scott Van Pelt, ESPN: "Maybe the diagnosis of [Gobert] did our country a huge favor. This much I know to be true: He hit the warp-speed button on all of this. And by taking away the games ... it forced everybody to take all of this a whole lot more seriously."

Go deeper: Premier League suspends season due to coronavirus

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Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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