Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Maggie Nichols' plea for another year is right — but that doesn't mean it will happen
Maggie Nichols wants another senior year.
Hard to blame her.
She's one of the thousands of college athletes who had seasons ended by the coronavirus pandemic, but as a senior, her loss was even greater. The Oklahoma gymnast lost the final weeks of her college career, too. No change to add more championships and accolades. No opportunity to cap the most storied career in college women's gymnastics.
And when the NCAA decided last week to allow an extra year of eligibility for spring-sport seniors but not winter-sport ones — basketball, wrestling and gymnastics among them — that meant the end for Nichols.
But she isn't accepting it.
Monday, she posted a message on her social media accounts.
"We understand that the season was canceled for a reason bigger than sports to ensure everyone stays healthy and safe during this time," she wrote, "but us seniors will have no opportunity to represent our universities and compete in the sport we have worked our whole lives for again.
"Most importantly, we do not have the opportunity to end our careers on our own terms."
This season was it for Nichols, who began gymnastics when she was 3 but wasn't planning to compete beyond this season.
"In the blink of an eye," she wrote, "what we have done our entire lives was gone."
And while every senior deserves the chance at another year, no one deserves it any more than Nichols. She has endured and overcome so much in her career. She was injured right before the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials, then denied a spot on the team, something many gymnastics gurus say was a huge mistake. She was sexually assaulted by longtime national team doctor Larry Nassar, then became Athlete A, the first gymnast to report Nassar's abuse.
Even with that — and some worn-down knees, too — she stayed in gymnastics.
She loved the sport enough to compete with a passion and a glow that made her magnetic. You had to watch her. You had to appreciate her. You had to love her.
Nichols deserves an ending to her gymnastics career as magical as she is.
It would be right.
But here's the problem — life isn't fair right now. Kids can't go to school. Spouses can't see loved ones in nursing homes. Extended family members can't visit each other, much less hug each other.
Nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past two weeks. Millions more have seen hours cut, pay reduced and furloughs enacted, though they're the lucky ones; they still have jobs.
Then, there are the medical workers. Doctors. Nurses. EMTs. They are treating the sick, exposing themselves to the virus, and because of that, many are choosing to isolate and live away from family.
And what about the blue-collar workers who make sure our grocery stores are stocked and our gas stations are open and our essential services aren't interrupted?
And then, of course, there are the sick and the dying. Many are unable to breath on their own, in pain and in distress. There are gut-wrenching, first-person accounts, and you don't have to look far to find them.
I don't bring up any of this to minimize what Nichols said. As I said before, she is right. She deserves another year. Every senior who had a season cut short, whether in winter or spring sports, should get that chance.
But that doesn't mean they will.
The reasons the NCAA didn't offer an extra year to winter-sport athletes are many. Teams were at different points, including some that had already finished their seasons; how was the NCAA supposed to deal with seniors at different points? What about the increased costs to universities?
In a perfect world, it would've been made to work, but right now, our world is fair from perfect.
"We deserve one last opportunity to compete," Nichols wrote.
I agree, but right now, I'm not sure anyone is getting what they deserve.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.