A Year Without Sports

The Olympics were postponed for a year. Baseball is in the process of imploding. College football is on the ropes. Pro football is in the late stages of a particularly strong bout of denial about its viability this fall. Basketball is surviving, but only in a bubble format that would be unsustainable for a full season. And hockey has been resuscitated, but only because all the players were sent across the border to our friendly neighbor (and not-so-hot spot) to the north.

One pretty great Super Bowl notwithstanding, 2020 will likely prove to be the most cataclysmic sports year — financially and otherwise — in recorded history.

We all know that sports doesn’t truly matter in the grand scheme of everything. It’s just a game. It’s not, you know, life or death.

But in a different sense, these games really do matter. Sports function as a microcosm of our hopes and dreams, of the values we stand for and the vices we stand against. Sports is one of the primary ways that many young people learn how the world functions, for worse but also for better.

Sports offer endless opportunities for heroism and herculean feats of mental strength. Some of the heroism is synthetic, and some of it is impressive but purely physical. But plenty of it is genuine and emotional and quite meaningful. To repurpose an old Alanis Morissette line, sports give a determined, damn-the-torpedoes athlete “the very best platform from which to jump beyond [one]self.”

And that is one reason why it is such a gut punch to know that any viable chance of college or pro sports this fall and winter is dwindling by the day. Until a vaccine is finalized, the unrelenting threat of COVID is simply incompatible with the potentially lethal risk factors of cross-country travel, close physical contact, and large-scale social gatherings. Each league can deny it all they want because there are so many millions (and billions) of dollars that stand to be lost. But trying to engage in sporting business as usual this fall would lead to COVID cases and spiking deaths that would quickly render it a catastrophic decision.

I’m as rabid a football fan as they come and have been for 30 years. It pains me to know that while the NBA and NHL might be able to successfully complete their seasons (due to being in Floridian and Canadian bubbles), the NFL may not be able to even begin its own.

But the operative thing is to do the right thing. That’s all that matters.

And the right thing is to preserve the safety of players, coaches, training staff, and sports fans. Each of these groups has a compelling reason (passion! pride! paychecks!) for longing to be on the field, or on the sideline, or in the bleachers. But the powers that be, be they sports financiers or federal government leaders, have an obligation — a moral obligation — to protect everyone involved in sports from each other. And also from themselves.

There is plenty of blame to go around when we think about how we got to this point in the U.S. We are 5 months deep in our chapter of the pandemic and, unlike almost every other comparable nation, are somehow still in the midst of a resurgence in COVID deaths. But that’s a conversation for another day, and another blog post.

Blame won’t protect or save anyone. Only careful, coordinated action will do that. What matters is not to preserve the status quo, or to preserve our sense of normalcy, or to preserve the pursuit of leisure.

What matters is to preserve human life, at any cost. Because life itself has no price tag. It has infinite value.

Cancel sports this fall, and we’ll prove that we still believe this most fundamental of all human truths.

So to the cooler heads of the sporting realm, I urge you:



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I am grateful for your time, and I am always eager to engage on the issues I write about. So engage away!

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