Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Column: Sports are returning, but they're also a constant reminder of how far we have to go

July 24, 2020
<p>Senior guard Cassius Winston (5) is embraced by freshman guard Rocket Watts (2) during a game against Ohio State. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 80-69, at the Breslin Student Events Center on March 8, 2020. </p>

Senior guard Cassius Winston (5) is embraced by freshman guard Rocket Watts (2) during a game against Ohio State. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 80-69, at the Breslin Student Events Center on March 8, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Life without sports from March until the end of June when the NWSL and Premier League restarted was a rough time for myself and many sports fans across the world. 

In March, I spent time believing that sports would be back soon, texting my dad to get ready for “May Mayhem” rather than March Madness.

I cried in the beginning of April when it was supposed to be the day of the men’s college basketball championship, and I heard One Shining Moment on Twitter.

Wanting to feel like it was happening, I listened to it so much on Spotify that it became a part of my “On Repeat” playlist that Spotify creates for you. Then in May, with my very limited college student budget, I spent money on a brand new Spikeball set and a Megan Rapinoe jersey to try and fill the void.

When sports came to a halt, not only did I lose a critical part of my job but I lost what my days consisted of. Waking up on a random Thursday morning, and knowing that there would be a terrible Thursday night lineup of a Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the Arizona Cardinals or Toledo facing Northern Illinois made me excited. That vaulting jump out of bed early on a Saturday to watch College GameDay and staying up until early into Sunday morning watching the Mountain West are what my days consisted of prior to COVID-19.

Even in the moments where I wasn’t watching sports and wasn’t busy with other things, sports dominated my schedule. Going over to my friends house? Basketball in the driveway. Watching Netflix? I’m turning on "Sunderland Till' I Die." Heading over to a State News social event? Do I wear my Russell Westbrook jersey or my Ben Wallace jersey?

With the NWSL entering the semifinals and finals and my favorite Premier League team Chelsea fighting for a Champions League spot, Major League Baseball and the NBA are both getting ready to begin their shot at a season in a pandemic. For the first time in a long time, we are about to have multiple options of sporting events to watch, whether we are ready for it or not. 

This for many is the first time since March we can have a take on sports that isn’t started or ended with “if we can play” or virus related. As a sports journalist and someone who loved sports throughout his entire life, spanning back to being three years old and reading scores and headlines off the bottom of ESPN’s broadcast, this is the first time I can actually even analyze something. Convincing myself the Oklahoma City Thunder could win the NBA Finals this year might have even been the highlight of my birthday two weeks ago.

Even with all of that excitement, sports returning also shows still how much further we have to go.

As I write this on a Thursday morning, California has just surpassed New York in the most COVID-19 cases in the country, recording more than 12,000 new cases in just one day. The United States as a nation is about to exceed 4 million COVID-19 cases, when we were at just over 1,600 cases in the United States on March 12, when March Madness was canceled. After our shutdown, quarantine, “Covid-cation,” whatever you want to call it, we’re right back in the same position we were at the peak of the pandemic in the United States.

Sports returning will showcase all the problems we still have to face as a nation. In baseball, players cannot participate in many of the traditions, norms baseball brings. No spitting, no sunflower seeds, pitchers licking their fingers to get a grip on the ball, and no getting in the face of umpires. On top of all of that, no fans and pumped in crowd noise for a game that has been made America’s pastime because of the atmosphere. 

The NBA’s return will outline some of those same virus precautions that are crucial to protect players and coaches, but they will also be bringing to light the injustices the Black community faces in our country to this day with social messages on the back of their jerseys and Black Lives Matter painted on the court.

As the NFL tries to navigate their return, they have to face many issues as well, including their failure to not only address the injustices of people of color but also their inexcusable treatment of women that continues to plague the world of sports.

When I woke up this morning, I vaulted out of bed for the first time since March for the opening day of baseball. That level of excitement was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. However, when I turn on the Tigers for the first time since September of last year, it will be unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Sports are about to become a constant reminder of how far we still have to go as a nation. They will remind us that people of color still face injustices each day, that women are still being mistreated in sports, and yes, that there is still a pandemic.

Many will complain that “politics” have infiltrated sports and the president will surely tweet that he’s mad people are kneeling, and that’s OK, because sports will make those who are unwilling to speak out against the issues at hand uncomfortable, forcing them to address the problem. They will be the constant reminder to all of us that we have to be better.

Knowing that when I turn on sports in the upcoming weeks that not only will I be able to see the super-sized Denver Nuggets lineup and also be educated and reminded of the issues that our country faces will make me want to vault out of bed in the morning.

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