Why we’re rooting so hard for sports to come back

Berkeley Memorial Stadium
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There is nothing more sublime than watching the orange-pink remains of the San Francisco sky melt into McCovey Cove from the left field bleachers as the first inning becomes the second, eager to witness another MadBum-Kershaw duel. Even if baseball itself bores you, the garlic fries and eclectic atmosphere make the game an entertaining outing nonetheless.

But these outings have become endeavors of the past. In March, COVID-19 ripped across the United States, putting the sports world on hold. Four months later, though many leagues have resumed, big-name athletes including DeAndre Jordan, Buster Posey and Tobin Heath have opted out of their respective seasons, worried about their personal health and the risk of infecting their families. Still more are concerned about what the pandemic means for stadium staff and other workers essential for play to continue.

Though the thought of rally rags and roaring crowds comes with much trepidation as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket, a sportless quarantine has left us rooting harder than ever for sports to (safely) return.

One of the main reasons sports are so captivating is their unpredictability. Quarantine can be boring and repetitive, causing us to miss that excitement even more. Some networks have been airing past games, but it’s just not the same. There’s no suspense or tension when you already know who wins — it’s the miraculous comebacks and crushing upsets, buzzer-beaters and impossible plays that make live sports so exciting. Right now, instead of wondering who will win the World Series or which country will take home the most gold medals at the Olympics, the only uncertainty the world has to offer is when this pandemic will end.

In addition to providing us an outlet of excitement to contrast our mundane quarantine routines, the connectedness and camaraderie of sports would help alleviate feelings of anxiety and isolation heightened by the health crisis.

Humans are dependent on interaction with others for survival, and for the 35.7 million Americans living alone as of 2019, the connection to their sports team may be their strongest sense of family — ever important during times like these. Sports teams are, essentially, an extension of one’s identity. Whether a source of regional pride or overall belonging, this connection has been severed by the absence of sports. And even with fanless play resuming, watch parties over Google Hangouts are simply not the same. Holding up your foam finger from your bed for your fellow virtual crowd members to see does not equate high-fives and fist bumps down the row after a goal or touchdown. At this point, we’d even welcome an exaltation-induced beer spill onto our jeans from an opposing fan — that, at the very least, would mean crowds are sitting shoulder to shoulder again.

This summer would have marked the 32nd Olympic Games, a time when we, as Americans, might have united in celebration of the athletes representing our country. During a global pandemic exacerbated by political tension, the sense of unity perhaps only sports can elicit would be timely.

Sports are, indubitably, a staple of American life. A return to sports might be sought after simply because it would signify that things are returning to normal — after all, it’s rare that sports are canceled. The Olympics have only been canceled three times since the first modern games in 1896. Likewise, major sports seasons have only been halted on a handful of occasions. It’s natural to want things to return to normal, and sports could rekindle a comforting element of normality.

Unfortunately, though, “normal” remains far from reality. The United States now has more than 4 million cases of the coronavirus. And sports coming back doesn’t mean the pandemic is over — it could even make it worse. The 1919 Stanley Cup Final was played during the flu pandemic, and a player died as a result of contracting it. As we long for sports seasons to come back, it’s important to remember how much is at stake if they do return.

Given their unpredictability and excitement, their power to bring families and communities together and the sense of normality their return would offer, sports have certainly been missed. However, it’s hard to root for them to come back when testing and resources are in such short supply elsewhere. Is it really right to have an opening day when 31 players tested positive after the one round of tests? Of course, we’re rooting hard for sports to return, but for now, the garlic fries and McCovey Cove sunsets can wait.

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