When the coronavirus first started emerging in the United States, I did not think it would be as widespread and detrimental as it is currently. I remember leaving for spring break and joking that I would have to FaceTime into class if I got COVID-19. Little did I know, we would all be on Zoom calls for class just a few weeks later.
Over spring break, I traveled to Houston to visit family. I bought my ticket at Christmas before COVID-19 became a worldwide issue and I was not going to let it go to waste.
On March 10, I went to the Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves game. I am an avid NBA fan and could not miss an opportunity to see a game during my trip. I was not scared of getting COVID-19 at this point, so being in a crowded stadium around a bunch of strangers was not an issue. I made sure to use hand sanitizer often, but I still did not expect to catch it.
On March 11, the day after I attended the game, the NBA shut down. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Jazz were set to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder but moments before tipoff, teams were sent back to the locker room and the game was postponed. That night, the NBA suspended its season and other professional sports leagues followed suit, including the NHL, MLB and MLS.
Eventually, spring seasons for collegiate athletics were also canceled, which meant there would be no March Madness. For basketball fans like myself, this was a hard blow.
During quarantine, a time of uncertainty and isolation, people needed sports. Sports have always been a distraction from unpleasant events in the world. After 9/11, sports were a way for people to unite and start to heal. Seeing the New York Yankees play Game 3 of the World Series on Oct. 30, 2001, seeing President Bush throw out the first pitch, and seeing fans cheer on the home team was therapeutic for Americans.
I fully understand the safety reasons for canceling the seasons, and I think it was the right call. I am not trying to dispute the medical implications of playing sports now. People need to remain as safe as possible to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, sports are necessary to provide a healthy outlet during hard times.
During quarantine, the ESPN documentary The Last Dance aired, and it averaged 5.6 million viewers across 10 episodes. When there were no live sports to watch, people relied on reruns and documentaries such as The Last Dance to see something sports related.
On July 30, the NBA played its first game in months. The week before, the MLB played its season opener. NASCAR also started having races again to finish the season. A sense of normalcy returned when sports returned, and we needed that. The fact that sports were returning gave me hope that more sporting events could return this fall.
Sports bring us together, and sports keep us entertained. Millions of people tuned in to watch a 48-minute basketball game. We needed that competition back in our lives.
Yes, sports will look different now with the regulations in place. Yes, some places will be without sports this fall. Yet, it is a positive sign for what is to come knowing some leagues have safely returned to play.
Sports is especially necessary during this time for student-athletes. Being cooped up in isolation for months is detrimental to the mental health of individuals. Sports gives kids something to be excited about and look forward to when everything else is being taken away. For high school students, especially seniors, having a season is a way to escape reality for a few hours and get away from the stress of the pandemic. Having a senior season is not something you can go back and redo, and it was hard to see spring athletes lose what they worked for during their high school careers. The physical and mental health of athletes should be considered when making decisions on seasons because while schools may be virtual for certain districts, sports provide companionship and an outlet for athletes to do what they love.
As a former athlete, I feel for those students. My senior season was one I will never forget, and senior night is special in so many ways. It hurts knowing some athletes have worked for years and will not get that night of recognition they have earned. Health is important, but if at all possible, student-athletes need competition, and their families need it too. It brings more than athletes together.
Professional athletes also rely on sports to earn income. Without sports, athletes ran into financial situations that were not an issue prior to COVID-19. Teams lost money in TV revenue and money accumulated from hosting games. These kinds of problems will not be quick to disappear.
All in all, being without sports during one of the roughest times in recent American history has affected individuals across the country in various ways. We are being asked to work together and fight this pandemic, but we need sports as long as it is safe. In a time of isolation, sports brings us together. We can get through this together, and sports gives us hope that we can and will return to normal soon.