As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. This idea couldn't be any more applicable than it currently is to the relationship between sports and humanity. All of this has come at the expense of a cruel reality that is hitting the world. However, one thing that holds throughout it all is that we need them.
Whether you are an avid sports watcher or truthfully could not care less, they are the reality that society is missing in these uncertain times. No matter how good the third season of Ozark is, or how infatuated we all have admittedly become with reality shows like Too Hot to Handle, the shows we stream on Netflix aren’t exactly real. I am a movie buff and have enjoyed the time to catch up with the shows or movies that I was meaning to watch beforehand, but the thought that the NBA and NHL playoffs would be going on right now hurts a bit more inside every day. Even if I hate to admit it at times, these live sports games that are missing have more drama, plot, and resolution than Ozark could fathom, let alone Too Hot to Handle.
I have grown up knowing plenty of people who aren’t as religious with sports news or obsessed with their favorite teams as I am. For years, I couldn’t comprehend what was more fascinating than watching Brandon Roy and his early Blazers teams trying to grasp onto a -500 record, the original “Jail Blazers” paying fine after fine, or watching live golf on tv? Carl Weathers’ character Chubbs Peterson from Happy Gilmore croons, “Go to your happy place.” All I needed growing up was a Sports Illustrated “clean” magazine in my lap and my eyes glued to a live game. This was my happy place!
The nature of sports may seem arbitrary to some because it’s only a game, right? Sure, the argument could be made both ways and I got a large taste of this growing up with a sister and mom whose interest didn’t flow with mine and my dad’s on the interest spectrum. But the intensity and excitement of a game on the television can mesh or break a group to the tipping point more than one could imagine.
Sports continue to find ways to flow into our lives, thanks to ESPN gracing fans and others with The Last Dance, a ten-episode series documenting Michal Jordan’s career and final season, or dance, with the Chicago Bulls. Quarantine has also offered time for people to catch up with television shows, movies, reading, self-reflection and maybe even creating some new healthy habits. However, the missing ingredient that is so often taken for granted is the presence of an escape that is real and meaningful. The escape from this particular juncture of everyone’s lives is sports replays and highlights for many. Or the reminiscing for the lack thereof.
When Kobe Bryant passed away earlier this year, it brought our country together in a way that I’m sure many didn’t expect. Even if Bryant didn’t touch everyone the same way he did with many sports fans, his image, passion and celebrity status collided into something more than basketball and sports. The way Bryant lived his life maybe did not resonate with everyone and not everyone cared about him to the same degree as others. However, this event was real and devastating. The way some society dealt with this tragic death is for the same reason that sports fans hold their teams and favorite players so dearly to their hearts. It matters and sports matters to our fans.
The devastating reality that is COVID-19 has brought the country and world together for a whole other reason that goes beyond sports and understanding. The brutal death toll and uncertainty would have been unimaginable a year ago when many of us were comfortably enjoying playoff basketball, hockey and golf among other things to end a day. Being cooped up in houses for quarantine, political debates and conflicting attitudes about the disease brings the need for some sort of a happier and more normal way of life.
As sports may not be at the forefront for some in quarantine time, it is the closest thing to normal that society may need more than ever. The current debate shows may continue, with Stephen A. Smith ranting with Max Kellerman on ESPN’s First Take, about who the greatest basketball player of all time is fun and all, but when it comes down to the base of sports, this is not what matters. It is the genuine camaraderie between fans. It is you calling your friends in excitement after your team wins and one commonplace that people from all backgrounds can end the night with after a day of work or school.
The future for professional players, owners and fans is uncertain but is the same way for practically everyone else. Even if the saying, “We won’t take this for granted,” has become a cliche in quarantine time and funnels into sports, I can assure you the next time fans are allowed at a live sporting event, they won’t.