The inescapable has taken over the 'escape' for sports fans

Mar 16 2020, 5:10 pm

No matter what’s happening in our lives, for fans, sports often act a refuge. They’re a sanctuary away from a terrible day at work, an argument with a loved one, or somewhere to lose yourself for a few hours.

That all changed last week when professional sports shut down across the globe. The rinks, ballparks, courts, and stadiums all went silent. No players, no fans, no personnel; all sent home amidst the outbreak of COVID-19.

This is typically the time of year when NCAA March Madness is ramping up, NHL and NBA teams are making a push for the playoffs, and MLB is putting the finishing touches on spring training.

None of that will happen this year. Professional sports as we know it are on hold.

It was an unprecedented move by all sports leagues, simultaneously shutting down, with no timetable for a return. At the very least, it will be weeks before leagues get rolling again, but more realistically, it could be months.

It’s a bizarre situation because sports acted as an escape. Until last week, despite the turbulence outside the sports realm, it was still business as usual inside the “sports bubble.” Now that the inescapable has encroached upon the escape, now where do we turn?

People often use sports — whether it’s playing it themselves, or watching professionals — as a means to transport themselves somewhere else. To get lost and forget their troubles for a while, even if it’s only for a few hours.

No matter how chaotic things are around them, people always had their favourite team to turn to or their favourite player to watch. But now, fans don’t have that escape.

How we consume media today, it’s easy to curate your social feed to limit the topics you want to consume. If you care mostly about sports, the odd non-sports tweet, Facebook, or Instagram post might creep into your feed, but sports social media sticks to sports, for the most part.

But once leagues shuttered, there was no escaping the coronavirus news. A feed full of box scores, video highlights, and random observations evolved into a sobering dose of reality.

Some prefer to use sports to filter out the noise from the outside world. But what happens when that filter is removed? It’s the equivalent of a fire hose of panic and fear shot straight into your chest. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

When sports were there as a shield, it was easier to forget how chaotic the world can be. As long as there was a game on, as long as teams were playing, it still felt like there was some normalcy to life.

When the stadiums went dark, it didn’t feel normal anymore. Without that shield, the presence of a pandemic is real, and it’s ever-present.

Player quotes, video highlights and innocent sports observations were replaced by photos of people buying mass quantities of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

This is the world we live in now.

When that’s all you see on social media, when that’s all you see on television, it’s easy to spiral out of control. It can feel like the world is ending.

To me, it felt like the beginning of every science fiction movie where an outbreak occurs and the population goes bonkers before the pandemic hits.

Back in 2001, Major League Baseball ceased playing games for six days after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centre. The world was altered after 9/11, but after a week without baseball, it seemed like some sense of normalcy came back when the game returned.

Hopefully, the same thing will happen when professional sports returns after this hiatus. Life as we know it will have drastically changed when games get underway again, but some sense of normalcy will return.

In the grand scheme of things, sports are inconsequential. It was a simple decision to shut down games because playing games with thousands of fans in attendance unnecessarily put masses of people at risk. Professional sports stood more to lose than gain by staying status quo.

Owners will lose money. Networks will lose viewers. But it was the correct choice to make. For the greater good, it was the only choice to make.

It’s an eerie sight when tuning sports networks without scores on the ticker. With no major live sports programming. Without games on the radio or sports talk programs to dissect the results.

This is uncharted territory for everyone involved. There’s no play book for how a regular citizen should deal with a pandemic in the year 2020. Maybe that’s why grocery stores are being cleared of essentials, because people are acting on instincts.

It was a precautionary measure by professional sports leagues to shut down their leagues indefinitely, and although some commissioners took longer than others to come to that conclusion, it was the right move.

All this served as a lesson to those who consume sports as a means of entertainment. Sports are a non-essential part of life and the world can go on without them. But we sometimes forget why we emotionally invest in these games; to believe in something.

Eventually, professional sports will return. Once teams are given the go-ahead to resume play, they may play games without fans in the stands to start. At some point, fans will be permitted to return to their stadiums.

The world will be a much different place when that happens.

Ian HunterIan Hunter

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