Gordon Monson: Finding space between the troubles caused by a pandemic and the triumphs created out of sports
People are hurting, but they also want something to root for, something other than wins in the harrowing struggle between health and sickness
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A limited number of fans watch the Utah Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA basketball at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.
It scared me and maybe it scared you, too.
Still does. Still should.
If it didn’t — doesn’t — then, talk to the families of the millions of people who have died around the planet, the hundreds of thousands in this country and the more than a thousand in Utah who have been forced to say a permanent goodbye — and on some occasions, couldn’t even do that properly because of spread concerns — to individuals they loved, love.
People now gone to wherever the dead go, on account of a damn pandemic.
Playing sports in an environment like that hasn’t been — isn’t — easy, and perhaps not even justifiable, no matter how anybody rationalizes it. But rationalize, we will. To those who claim COVID-19 is a hoax, shame on them. It’s been brutally real to the aforementioned, and to multiple millions of others who have gotten sick.
In the midst of all that, touchdowns, 3-pointers, home runs, goals, birdies, trophies, cheers and boos landed in a strange place, the space between not mattering at all and mattering even more because sports fans were — are — looking, reaching and grasping for any kind of diversion, for any kind of relief from the heaviness of the dreary day.
Sports has and continues to power forward.
The question remains: Should it?
There have been many undulations, postponements, cancellations, adjustments along the way. Responsible stadiums, arenas, parks, galleries have been mostly empty, careless ones have been partially filled. Schedules were and are revamped. The Kentucky Derby was shifted to September, the Masters to November, Wimbledon went dark, the NBA Finals were in October, hermetically sealed at Walt’s World, the NBA draft in November, the start of a new season in December. The Rose Bowl was played not at the Arroyo Seco, rather in Dallas.
Billions of dollars — what was it at last count, $11B, more? — have been lost.
Leagues, conferences and associations have looked for and found ways to keep the games played, playing, some of them, anyway, those organizations slapping down strict protocols that have interrupted the normal flow, disqualifying afflicted individual players from participating and, in some cases, holding out entire position groups.
Some athletes — just like the fans who root for them — have taken and still take those protocols seriously, others have casually ignored them, heading off to get chicken wings at a strip club or going to unmasked parties among friends, daring their team or their league to fine them, if the evidence is leaked.
This is America, after all, right? I’ll let go of my gentlemen’s club membership card when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
Talk to Karl Anthony-Towns about how serious to take this pandemic.
The Timberwolves big man lost his mom to it in April and subsequently a fistful of other family members, too, and recently said that after his mother’s death that his “soul has been killed off.” He said of his former self: “That Karl died on April 13. He ain’t coming back. You’re talking to the physical me. … That man you’re talking about from April 13 or before, I don’t know him. He ain’t there. … He’s never coming back.”
But the bounce of the ball — or the spiral of it — went and goes on.
Sometimes the games were, in fact, thrilling. And sometimes they seemed silly and superfluous, overall and in the specifics.
There were — are — situations when coaches wore — wear — masks, only to pull them down below their mouths when yelling and barking and forthwith spitting at players and referees in their anger. There were — are — occasions when teams were — are — loading onto planes to fly to a game, only to have it wiped out. There were college football teams scrambling to replace suddenly canceled games with newly arranged ones, games put on within two or three days of their scheduling, leaving almost no time to get prepared. There were extremely cautious conferences that delayed the start of their season, carving them down to just a few games, and there were overzealous leagues who were going to find ways to play games, come what may.
And there’s the NFL playoffs now, and the Super Bowl. What will happen if a significant player or portion of one of those teams tests positive? Where is the threshold for a game being postponed or moved or forfeited? Didn’t the Cleveland Browns just a couple of weeks ago play — lose — a game in which none of their receivers could suit up? Where’s the line between forging ahead and maintaining competitive legitimacy?
The powers that be will always care about making their money.
And human beings will care about sports, as was demonstrated by the recent release of the 100 top-rated shows on television in 2020. Seventy percent of them were NFL games.
The coronavirus may have tragically harmed and deeply troubled a whole lot of people, physically, mentally, financially. It will continue to exact its toll.
Finding that space, though, between handling concern and craving for competition was found and will go on being searched for and located by people who are, in fact, hurting, but who also want something to root for, something other than wins in the harrowing struggle between health and sickness, between life and death.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.