At first, as I took my usual Friday night stroll through my hometown, I didn’t sense anything unusual. I forgot the emails telling me I was out of school for a month, my SAT suspended, my concerts, prom, canceled. I felt almost completely neutral toward the profound unusualness, disappointment, and shock of the last 72 hours.
I still felt the crisp March air gently blow across my face. I still saw the bright lights of our 50’s-Esque downtown, transforming its normally drab, bland landscape into a symphony of color. I still felt the same feeling of meditative satisfaction I’ve always felt as I stared into the old-fashioned street lights leading to my home, varying in brightness, yet equal in their inability to actually light anything.
Then, finished with my little stroll, I plopped down onto our raggedy couch, turned on the TV and flipped through the guide, instinctively clicking on the NBC Sports Bay Area icon reading “San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues.” I’d probably already missed at least the first period, I absentmindedly thought to myself. Then, as I saw instead of a hockey game a group of panelists discussing COVID-19, reality came back. The word that had been in the back of my mind that somehow summed up exactly everything I have been feeling for the last 72 hours finally came to me.
Surreal is the only way to describe how the world, no, not just the sports world, the WORLD, felt watching the mightiest empires in the realm of sports collapse in mere hours. Surreal describes what it was like seeing my mother, who hadn’t watched a basketball game in her life, frantically refreshing ESPN.com for updates. Surreal describes hearing the familiar names, “Rudy Gobert,” “Donovan Mitchell,” “Emmanuel Mudiay,” and “coronavirus” in the same sentence. Surreal describes the feeling of sports, the one constant in our hectic, disorganized lives, disappearing before our very eyes.
Sports, no matter the circumstances, has been a factor in American life since the Industrial Revolution and has been a constant for millions of children and adults since the birth of radio and television. Yes, strikes have occasionally resulted in delays, canceled championships, and ended seasons, but in some way or another, it has not been possible for decades to flip on the TV and not be able to see one’s favorite basketball, baseball, hockey, or football team.
A world without sports is entirely unprecedented in the modern history of this country.
How long will this hiatus last? Who knows. The CDC has just announced that it recommends that no more than fifty people be in one place at one time for the next two months. FIFTY. It’s practically impossible to run any event, let alone a professional sporting event under those conditions.
How will this affect players? Their salaries? Offseason contracts? How will it affect leagues and their own profit? How will the respective leagues conduct their drafts? Again, nobody knows, because we are, quite frankly, in uncharted territory.
During World War 2, many American sports, particularly baseball, considered canceling their seasons because of the ongoing two-front war against fascism. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Baseball, wrote to the President of the United States and asked his advice on whether he should cancel the season and throw Major League Baseball’s support behind the war effort.
The essential question at hand was this: in times of crisis in which the nation needed to pull together and work for a singular cause, were sports and recreational activity a waste of time?
In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “green light” letter, he said no, saying that “it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” He maintained that baseball was “a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of [ballplayers] fellow citizens – and that in my judgment is totally worthwhile.”
We are in the same predicament now, the difference being that America’s major sports leagues don’t have the luxury of choosing to continue play. And now, the recreation that Roosevelt deemed necessary and worthwhile even in a time of war, is gone.
This new reality, whether it lasts for weeks or months, will hopefully make us appreciate the value of sports all the more, but the gap left by them, especially in a time where millions of Americans have self-quarantined, will no doubt be felt by these millions and will be remembered for years to come.