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Keyontae Johnson’s collapse unrelated to COVID diagnosis, per family statement

Johnson’s status gets a update that should be helpful to sports at large in a carefully worded statement that does little to provide hope for him.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators forward Keyontae Johnson’s collapse during an early December visit to Florida State has been medically determined to be “not related to or a result of a previous or current Covid diagnosis,” according to a statement released by his family through Florida’s men’s basketball program on Wednesday.

That statement, which bears typing out in a form other than a Twitter graphic, once more thanks all who have sent support and well-wishes and those involved in Johnson’s care, and suggests that Johnson will sit out for the rest of the 2020-21 season, with “what comes next for Keyontae” up to him to reveal “on his own timeline and using his voice.”

An update from the Johnson family

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support and well wishes for Keyontae and our entire family. We are also incredibly thankful for the medical care provided and the willingness of experts here and across the country to be involved in helping us better understand the events of December 12.

University of Florida Health treating physicians consulted with other local and national experts who reviewed the relevant imaging and testing related to this case. The unanimous conclusion of all experts is that Keyontae’s medical emergency was not related to or a result of a previous or current Covid diagnosis.

The consultation team included physicians from the Cardiac and Vascular Institute of Gainesville, University of Washington Center for Sports Cardiology, Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Yale University School of Medicine.

We continue to be committed to sharing any information that could be helpful to others. Our hope is that the experts’ conclusion that this instance is not Covid-related will bring some peace of mind.

Our focus now is on Keyontae’s academics and continued recovery. His resilience has been inspiring to watch. He will spend the rest of the season focused on being the best coach and teammate he can be. What comes next for Keyontae is for him to share on his own timeline and using his own voice.

On its face, this is a revelation of a medical diagnosis that should give heart — no pun intended — to many who have worried that Johnson’s collapse was related to a heart condition, perhaps the heart inflammation known as myocarditis, brought on by a previous COVID-19 infection.

That dreaded scenario — in which Johnson, who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer of 2020, would have developed some sort of susceptibility to unexpected collapse by virtue of having had the disease — was a tremendously worrying prospect for college and professional athletics, as it would have connected a player who had seemingly had and recovered from a bout with COVID-19 to a terrifying medical emergency that left Johnson hospitalized and in precarious condition after a traumatic episode during a nationally televised game.

This medical conclusion being made public should allow players and teams dealing with COVID-19 recoveries to go forward with slightly less fear of an episode like Johnson’s occurring on another court, and the Johnson family should be lauded for being forthcoming with medical information that could very easily be kept private.

But the statement is also very carefully worded, and it notably does not even explicitly confirm that Johnson previously had COVID-19, nor reveal his actual diagnosis. As such, it does not confirm or deny the Associated Press’s reporting that Johnson had COVID-19 over the summer, nor confirm or refute that Johnson’s current condition and/or December diagnosis was acute myocarditis, which The Gainesville Sun’s Zach Abolverdi reported it was in late December, citing “a source with first-hand knowledge” of an MRI revealing as much.

It is possible to view the full sum of what has been reported and revealed about Johnson to be that he tested positive for and had COVID-19 over the summer, collapsed during that fateful December game due to myocarditis unrelated to COVID-19, and is now recovering from his collapse and a diagnosis of myocarditis.

That reading of the facts as reported and revealed is not a particularly rosy one for Johnson, for whom a particularly severe case of myocarditis might mean having to medically retire from a basketball career that seemed destined for the NBA provided continued health, even if that myocarditis having no roots in or relation to COVID-19 is an important distinction that should provide some comfort and confidence for other athletes navigating a post-COVID-19 landscape that has plenty of shifting sand.

And while the ramifications of finding the converse — that Johnson collapsed because of myocarditis brought on by COVID-19 and not detected between his recovery from the infection and return to the court, something that would instantly make hundreds or thousands of athletes recovering from COVID-19 potential time bombs — would be dire indeed for sports, it defies logic to believe a medical team like the one Johnson’s family describes in the statement, one that likely involves dozens more professionals than those thanked by name by Florida’s University Athletic Association in a full-page ad in the Tallahassee Democrat in December, would make a finding like this with anything but Johnson’s specific condition in mind.

But to my mind, any reading of the publicly reported and revealed information — all of which has been carefully worded to provide for possibilities like Johnson’s condition not being tied to a past COVID-19 bout — that comes to a conclusion other than “Keyontae has myocarditis, but it — fortunately, I guess? — wasn’t related to COVID-19” requires believing either that journalists got significant facts completely wrong, that Johnson’s family is presenting falsehoods, or that a team of doctors has massively botched its care and/or diagnosis, none of which seems particularly likely to me.

And so, until or unless some further clarification comes, I’m left with the uncomfortable and unsatisfying belief that Johnson was a victim of awful luck — but not a susceptibility introduced by a previous COVID-19 diagnosis — when he collapsed on December 12, changing his life and that of everyone who knows him forever.

I’d advise anyone struggling to line up every detail related to Johnson and keen to charge any party speaking up or reporting on this situation with introducing errors to consider that it may be true that all the evidence available suggests the same frustrating conclusion, one that leaves a promising future fully in limbo.

Late on January 24, a day after Florida traveled to Georgia and took down the Bulldogs for the second win of what is now a season-shifting four-game winning streak, Johnson apparently took to Instagram to make a rare post on his story — a picture of himself on the run with the ball against Auburn from the Gators’ rout of the Tigers from more than a year ago in January 2020, a time when COVID-19 was a blip on most Americans’ radars, if that.

He overlaid the picture with a hashtag — #FREEME — and a frowning emoji sometimes referred to as the “pensive” face.

Keyontae Johnson’s very existence and health are now not entirely his own to handle, and the narrative of his life is not entirely his story to tell. While I have spent much of Johnson’s recovery thinking about how it has traumatized and shaped those around him, I have spent little of it thinking about how it must be affecting him — largely because I will freely admit that I cannot fathom being at the center of this specific maelstrom.

Being as fair and understanding about all of the possibilities of that existence as we can be, rather than throwing around accusations and recriminations, is something we owe him.