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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Two months and counting…

After nearly three sport-less months, plans of beginning again still uncertain

Just six months ago, at the turn of the decade, there was a lot to look forward to in the sports world. The end of dynasties, the rise of young stars and the unpredictability of who would leave their mark had fans excited about what was to come. The NBA and NHL regular seasons were winding down, soccer leagues around the world were getting closer to crowning a winner and the MLB season was ready to begin once again. But, as we all know, life was put on hold.

The NBA and NHL playoffs, the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, the Summer Olympics, the MLB season, NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments and The Masters are just some of the events that were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.  

As we approach the three-month mark since everything stood still, many of us have undergone a period of reflection. We took for granted the joy and comfort that a cyclical sports calendar had brought us. When it was stripped away, all we were left to was ourselves. 

For fans worldwide, sports are an escape from reality — there’s nothing quite like it. The pride of rooting for your team, the bragging rights, the thrill of competition. For a couple of hours in the day, people can be distracted from the hardships that come with life and feel a part of something bigger than themselves. From the outside looking in, sports fandom may seem ridiculous. But being a fan of any team means so much to so many people, sometimes more than anyone else can ever understand. 

The initial days of the COVID crisis were especially tough to handle, but as each day passes, there is a clear consensus that is beginning to take shape: whenever sports come back, we are never taking it for granted ever again. This is why, as more leagues begin to unveil their preliminary plans for a return, whatever guidelines and restrictions that accompany them will be more than tolerated. All we need is a distraction again. 

Indeed, the impact that a return to sports would have stretches farther than just the fans. This affects media and news networks, venue and gameday workers and the players themselves — those whose businesses and livelihoods are intertwined with and depend on sports. The current stoppage has many teams, networks and companies scrambling to find content to produce and money to pay their employees. 

For many professional sports journalists, this halt of action has resulted in a significant period of uncertainty. In the best-case scenario, reporters and columnists have been reassigned to cover different beats for their publication. But all too often, furloughs and layoffs have been a common theme among many companies. The livelihoods of so many now depend on how quickly sports make their return.

In addition to being unable to compete and play the sport they love, professional athletes are left to deal with an increasingly dire financial situation that has and will continue to have a huge impact on leagues for many years to come. The substantial losses in TV deals, tickets and other forms of revenue have forced some teams to make crucial cuts to the salaries of those they employ, including players on their payroll. 

As much as the absence of sports is felt, we understand why it is the case. The health and well being of everyone is the number one priority and especially during this pandemic, the smart choice was to shut everything down. But even now as states begin to reopen and sports are preparing to come back, there is a health and a moral dilemma that will need to be addressed.

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are approaching two million and the death toll has surpassed 100,000. Shelter-in-place restrictions are being lifted almost daily and people have already begun to resume their lives at a somewhat-normal capacity. For leaders in the sports community, this is a tricky situation to handle. 

On the one side, resuming play will ease the financial hold that so many involved are currently under. The reason for extended planning and detailed guidelines is to make sure that when sports do eventually return, it is as safe to do so as possible. Constant discussion and consultation with medical officials has been key in guiding these leagues on their path to a return. But no matter how much planning is done or how well-crafted guidelines are, the question remains: What happens when a player or a coach gets infected?

“At this point, given what we seem to be learning about the virus, I think you can make a case for keeping [the leagues] open even if there are positive tests,” Shawn Klein, a philosophy lecturer at Arizona State University told The Score. “Now, if there’s a whole team going down, that might change things. But I think if you have a few positive tests here, there, that seems compatible with continuing to play – if what we seem to know now continues.”

Health and safety should be the priority for every league, but it seems like the return to play has more to do with money than with the love of the game. Professional sports are a business, but it cannot allow concern over financial losses overtaken concern for the health of all individuals involved. If the worst-case scenario of widespread infection does occur, the consequences would be catastrophic.

“Ethically speaking, this is a life and [possibly] death situation,” Stephen Mosher, a sport studies professor at Ithaca College told The Score. “I would be completely supportive of any personnel who argue they are not willing to put themselves or their families in jeopardy. However, I would also argue that the well-being of the players and support personnel has always been outweighed by the profit motive of the owners.”

As a fan, it can feel like a selfish thing to be asking for sports to return in such a frightening time because at the end of the day, coaches and athletes are humans just like us. Their health and well-being is just as important as ours, and if they choose not to play, we should respect that.

“Actual connection during the games and watching the games, I think, is something that we’re excited to (have) back,” Klein said. “Almost all fans, we understand the health concerns. We don’t want it to come back in a way that’s going to put anybody at any real serious, undue risk beyond what might already exist within the sport and life.” 

We are still a long way from getting back to our normal lives and routines. For the near future, we will not be able to attend large events like we used to, sports included. Even if their return is without fans in the stands for the time being, we can live with that. Appreciation for something only grows in its absence, and whenever they do come back, there will be a new sense of value to it. But for now, one can only hope that the outcome of this will be nothing but good and everyone will remain healthy. As we’ve learned, even the sports world can fall victim to the real world. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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