Amid one of the darkest times in human history is the decidedly darkest time in sports history. It’s obvious enough to not have to say it, but I will anyway so nobody gives me shit – OF COURSE professional, amateur, and recreational sports matter little when compared to the COVID-19 outbreak as a whole. I’m simply trying to convey that this time – since mid-March, when all major sports leagues around the globe stopped operations and much of the globe was forced into self-isolation – is unique and multifaceted.
At the top of the pyramid you have the uber-leagues, the multi-billion dollar juggernauts like the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Premier League and Champions League. All have ceased operations, leading to billions in lost revenue, tens of thousands of layoffs and furloughs, and some pretty massive holes left in the international sports storybook. The most important facet of this situation is that scores of folks in the industry – from hourly concessions workers and operations departments to media and player development – are out of work and don’t have the kinds of safety nets that millionaire players or billionaire owners have. Fans will point to the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars they spent on sporting events and TV or streaming packages that were either rendered useless by the pandemic or left incomplete. There are obviously much larger and more serious issues than the void left in the sports world, but put yourself in the state of mind you were in as a sports fan in 2019, and consider the following hypotheticals:
- The 2019-2020 seasons for the NBA, NHL, Premier League and Champions League are not completed (highly likely).
- The 2020 Olympics and UEFA Euro 2020 are postponed to 2021 (already happened) or cancelled altogether.
- The entire 2020 MLB and NFL seasons are cancelled (looking more likely by the day).
- All other sports (golf, tennis, boxing, MMA, collegiate sports, etc.) cancel their major events (Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since WWII, March Madness cancelled, other events postponed).
If some (or all) of those come true, here’s a quick list of things we may have lost as a sports community:
- Tens of thousands of games and matches, hundreds of hours of entertainment, content, and fodder for discussion with our friends.
- All-time great players’ final season(s) robbed – with no chance at a storybook ending. One can imagine a scenario where Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and countless other legends careers are cut short. 2020 felt like the final year where James, Ronaldo, Federer, Williams, Brady and Brees realistically had a chance to make one last impact on the sport they dominated for so long.
- Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities missed for teams and the regions they represent. Chief among these is Liverpool, who were mere days away from lifting a Premier League trophy for the first time, their first domestic title in over 30 years. I look at the Milwaukee Bucks and see a team that likely had their singular shot at a title taken from them. If Giannis leaves or suffers an injury as he moves into his next contract, Bucks fans will look at 2020 and wonder if that was the last chance of their lifetimes to see a title. Fans of the Maple Leafs, Flyers, and Canucks have been waiting decades for a title and had a realistic chance in 2020.
- Hundreds of Olympians will miss the 2021 Games that would have qualified otherwise. Soccer-crazed nations like England, Croatia, and Belgium will lose out on seeing their Golden Generation of players compete for EURO 2020. This summer’s international soccer tournaments – from the Champions League knockout round to EURO to Copa America to the Olympic Games – seemed like the last hurrah for Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, and other global icons who likely won’t be playing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
- All-time greats in their prime will miss out on seasons that could have taken them over the top in the record books. I’d imagine Mike Trout’s chances of breaking several all-time MLB records will be shot if he misses a season or more. If the 2020-21 NHL season doesn’t start on time, Alexander Ovechkin likely loses his chance at Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record (which was shockingly in play as Ovi put up monster stats into his mid-30s). LeBron James may miss out on the all-time points scored and minutes played records. Serena Williams is two major wins away from breaking the all-time record. So is Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is four away. Tiger Woods is four away.
- Collegiate and amateur athletes in all sports, at all levels, likely will miss out on their moment. The University of Dayton (and to a lesser extent San Diego State) were in the midst of their greatest ever seasons, and had a real shot at becoming the best Cinderella stories in March Madness history. If Sabrina Ionescu led Oregon to the national title, she’d have put herself on a trajectory to become the greatest women’s basketball player of all time.
There are dozens of major "what-if’s" that will come out of this, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1940’s. "What if Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio hadn’t missed three seasons each serving in the military?" will be replaced by "Could Mike Trout have hit 800 homers if the 2020-2021 seasons happened?" Could LeBron have won a final title or two? Could Serena have had her crowning moment with her 25th Slam? Would Giannis have joined the elite fraternity of back-to-back MVPs in sports? Could Sidney Crosby have won his fourth Stanley Cup? We may never know.
Normally, the sports-crazed among us would have recreational sports to fall back on, but that isn’t happening either. Rec league softball games, golf rounds, pickup basketball games, tennis matches, five-a-side soccer games, you name it – they’re all on pause, too. From the top of the sports world all the way down to your cracked-surface neighborhood basketball court – it’s all gone. Backyard sports, indoor improvisation, and video game simulations are all we have – apart from watching old highlights on YouTube and rebroadcasts on the sports channels.
Normally around this time of year I dive deep into MLB, watching every MLB.tv game I can watch, betting on season win totals, going to most A’s games, playing fantasy baseball, and writing my season preview. This year I had some spicy takes – how the Mets, Reds, A’s, Twins, and Rays all had a great shot at winning a title despite lower payrolls, decades of playoff failure, and stiff competition. I wanted to blast the Tigers, Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Rockies, and Pirates for insulting their fans for the umpteenth consecutive year by fielding a disaster of a team.
But I can’t. There is no baseball. There’s no basketball, no hockey, no soccer, no golf. No $150 tickets to buy. No $30 transaction fees to get saddled with. No parking lot to get screwed out of $40 at. No $12 beers and $8 hot dogs. No texts with your friends about how the team is screwing up by not playing our best guy enough. No calls with your family that devolve into a debate about whether or not they should trade that guy for the other guy, you know, the guy from Chicago who’s pretty good but not good enough to give up our guy. No shouting at the TV. No armchair quarterbacking like you know how to manage a team better than the people paid millions to do so. No shitting on your coworkers because they left a guy on a bye week in their fantasy lineup. No gambling on the Orlando-San Antonio second-half under on a Wednesday night. No playing golf with your buddies on a Sunday morning. No co-ed softball walk-off homers celebrated over Natural Light pitchers.
There’s only us. Reach out to your friends and family. Tell them you love them, and then send them a YouTube link of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, or Super Bowl XLIII, or Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, or the 1986 World Cup Final, or the final round of the 2019 Masters. Video chat about that crazy game you went to in 2013, or the time you caught a foul ball in 1974, or where you were when the Sharks scored 4 goals in 5 minutes in Game 7, or when you hit that insane three over your best friend to win the pick-up game, or that time you made that 50 foot putt on 18.
And keep doing that until the games are back. And do so knowing that we’ll never whine about the Thursday Night game between the Titans and Jags. We’ll never complain that the Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts seem to always be Red Sox-Yankees games. We won’t bitch about how long the line for beer is, because – holy shit – we’re at a game. Our team is down there, warming up. They’re probably not going to win the title this year, but there’s a season. There are games. Players are playing, fans are cheering, announcers are broadcasting, writers are writing, vendors are vending, and the refs are there to screw it all up. We have risen from the ashes, and the games are back. And we’ll never take these moments for granted again.