It was all natural, wasn’t it?
Before 2020 we could only rely on sport. There could be war or disaster or depression, storm and loss and grief, but there was always an escape hatch. There would be games.
There were games on Fridays and Sundays, and pretty much all kinds of distractions at all other times of the week. It was just that easy.
Things were so sure they printed team plans on small cards for your wallet and on posters for the bar walls, and they were gospel. Fans might look at the schedules months in advance and think, yes, I know where I’ll be that day. I know what I’ll do that night
That was part of the attraction, wasn’t it? The certainty of everything? We think we’re watching sports because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We mostly watch because we are doing it.
We knew the teams would show up. We knew the best athletes would be there by the scheduled time.
There would be order. It could be 82 games, or 162 games, or 16 games, and it would somehow lead to a champion decided by a system that only the believers can decipher. There would be 60 minutes or 90 minutes or three periods or four quarters or nine innings because there are lives to be planned around these games and life is not a test cricket match.
There would be rules and uniforms and officials to keep things fair.
There are things to complain about because that’s part of the ritual too and just enough hope to keep the devotion going. It is hope that connects the ritual.
Cruel, those distractions taken away when we needed them most.
But that’s the lesson of 2020, isn’t it? The reminder that losing a game isn’t the worst kind of loss. Not even close.
But where does sport fit in now? Is it the same place as before?
Until March, the N.B.A. and N.H.L. were in midseason shape. College basketball was headed for insanity. Baseball was in spring practice. The Summer Olympics were just around the corner.
Spring is the time of expectation, and expectation was in full bloom.
Do you remember where you were or who told you? There have been signs that were smashed in about a week that feels like it still is.
Just wait like a storm Give it a couple of days, a couple of weeks. It will pass. Everything will be back to normal soon.
It is not so.
It won’t be.
Does the show have to go on?
There were games to play, money to be made. (People died.)
And when this season ends, we will start the next season again. (People die.)
Where does sport fit in?
If only the world was that simple. Fight a pandemic. Play the games or not.
But bubbles are not airtight from reality. There is violence in the streets. There are people who bleed, suffer, march, die.
Yes, they are important.
What does it mean to be a fan now?
It’s a simple question in a complex year.
Maybe it means finding space for little joys. Maybe it means holding on to a sense of community. Maybe it means rituals that are not broken. Not now.
Is exercise just as important when the seats are empty?
Will there be deafening roars and mocking chants and people who insist on making the wave? Cap tips and curtain calls? Will there be those unique, unwritten moments when a building full of strangers, loosely knotted by entrenched interest and colorful gown and wedged between cupholders, elbows to elbows, knees to back, rises as one?
Could be. Maybe not like before. Maybe not again.
There was a November game between two college football powers that embodied 2020 better than any other sporting event. All season, including this weekend, the games had been wiped out by coronavirus outbreaks and individual positive tests. But not this one.
There’s always next year. They say that in sport when a team no longer has a chance. Part of the ritual is also to have hope that better days are ahead.
There’s always next year. We probably said that last year when we took it all – the games, of course, but life itself – for granted.
There’s always next year.
Except this time we know: Nothing is certain.