2020 quickly went from a year of endless possibilities to one of the most unforgettable years of our lives. The reasons this year will be memorable are quite clear: COVID-19, a heated election, devastating wildfires, the fight against social injustice, and many more events have been constant story lines.
Sadly, more than 22.2 million people lost their jobs in March and April. Fewer than 42% have regained work, finding out that their jobs weren’t considered “essential,” or at least not essential enough to work through a pandemic.
During the uncertain days of the pandemic, we have learned that one thing is more essential to our lives than we thought it was. That thing is sports.
As the United States was on the brink of shutting down, the NBA was the first sport to suspend play. Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the season vanished. Shortly after, college and high school sports were shut down.
With nothing in the world going on, many people turned to their TV screens to distract them from the realities of the pandemic. Missing from our screens was sports, and Americans were craving sports in any way, shape, or form.
Stations aired reruns of classic games, and viewers, including myself, tuned in every night to catch a game in which we already knew what the outcome would be. The nostalgia of sports from yesteryear hit its peak when “The Last Dance” documentary aired on ESPN. The 10-part series was the highest-rated show on television since sports were put on pause. The 90’s Bulls, once again kings of the sporting world, attracting 5.6 million viewers per episode.
While we reminisced about some of the great achievements in sports history, people craved current, live sports. ESPN struck gold whenever it made a deal to broadcast the KBO, and Korean baseball became part of people’s lives while American sports were still on hold.
Alas, sports are now back on television. The NBA and NHL will crown champions, and the MLB and NFL will (hopefully) make it all the way through the remainder of their respective seasons. However, one question still remains.
Why? Why do we, as Americans, yearn for sports so badly?
Sports are ingrained in America’s society. The National League has been around since 1876, when Ulysses S. Grant was the sitting president at that time. The point is, for a significant period, professional sports have been a key part of our everyday lives. People turn to sports to provide normalcy when our lives have been turned upside down.
After the tragic events on September 11, 2001, one of the most encouraging moments for Americans came six weeks after, when then-president George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in New York for Game Three of the World Series. The moment is one of the most iconic in sports history.
People turn to sports for hope. You can name many great performances after tragedy struck, such as the Boston Red Sox season following the Boston Marathon bombing, Brett Favre’s Monday Night Football performance after his father passed away, or Isaiah Thomas’s playoff game for the Celtics following his sister’s death.
The common denominator as to why these seasons and games are remembered is simple, they inspire people. Watching teams and athletes who are in pain take the field or the court and compete, overcoming the odds, and performing at a high level is motivating. This makes us, the fans, feel like we can overcome obstacles in our own lives.
While some people may not be happy with the current landscape of sports, with no spectators at games, athletes protesting racial injustice, and more, that’s not the point. Sports will always be an essential part of our lives.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks and social distancing are recommended by scientists and doctors to slow the spread, people want to watch games. We, the fans, find inspiration and joy in the games, teams, and athletes we love. As long as this is true, sports are, and always will be essential.