Walsh's Wonderings - Restarting sports

Before the pandemic hit, my answer was the same every time someone asked if I’d watched some new TV series or movie: “I have a finite number of minutes I can spend on mindless pursuits, so I choose to spend them watching sports.” As a result, I would stare blankly into space when people talked about episodes of The Big Bang Theory or The Wire or Big Brother (just kidding … I have to watch Big Brother).

Covid-19 didn’t just shut down my beloved NCAA Basketball Tournament, it shut down all sports and left a giant hole where my procrastination used to be. Even esports, where people sit in chairs and play video games for money (how is this a thing, again?) was shuttered. I was one of millions across the globe who wandered out of my man cave, eyes blinking against the bright light outside, and tried to figure out a world that didn’t involve second-guessing umpires or screaming at the TV.

What, now I was expected to actually interact with the world?

Sports was my white noise in the background while tending to other tasks: correcting essays, reading the newspaper, letters to the editor about fireworks in early June, etc. If I missed a big play, I’d simply rewind a minute or two and check it out. It was comforting, like the sound of a ticking clock to a new puppy.

A funny thing happened after the first few weeks without sports: I stopped caring. I discovered that I’d spent just as much time rooting against teams as I did rooting for them, so now I could use that energy in more productive ways. Like, say, watching TV shows and movies. The Office? Check. Leaving Neverland? Check. Tiger King? Well, no. I had to draw the line somewhere.

The point is that sports have become like cotton candy: they offer little substance as it gets harder to root for players who constantly switch teams, owners who couldn’t care less about the fans they supposedly serve, and regular season games that rarely matter amid interminable seasons meant to squeeze every last dollar from their cash cows.

Now the major sports leagues are trying to find ways to restart their businesses while the rubble from the Coronavirus fallout is still smoking. At this point, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

In a country where millions have lost their jobs, houses, and any semblance of economic security, it seems odd to root for multimillionaires to get back to work so they can help billionaires fleece their fans with twelve dollar beers and seat license fees. More importantly, in a time of civil upheaval where true dialogue on racial inequities is finally occurring, do we really need the distraction of everyone returning to their caves to catch an abbreviated NASCAR schedule?

I watched a tennis match over the weekend (you read that right: that’s what I’ve been reduced to) that featured a bizarre scoring format to limit the number of points either player had to play. It was also played in an empty stadium that piped in fake applause after every point. If adding the sports equivalent of a MASH laugh track doesn’t serve as a condemnation of sports fans, I don’t know what does.

Perhaps our time and energy could be better spent addressing the wounds this pandemic revealed instead of in spirited debates over obscure rule changes. Pay attention: life has no rewind button.

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