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On cancelling sports

Without sports, we have lost our escape from the realities of our world,



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Sports is often said to be the escape from the reality of the world. There are no sports for now. There is no escape. All we have is the reality of the world.

We so revere sports in our culture, we build these monumental cathedrals to hold their contests. Many times we tear them down after just a generation, only to build another one in its place, more ornate and more grand than its predecessor. On gameday, we marvel at the meticulously prepared playing surface, the freshly waxed floor, the ice smooth as glass, the grass trimmed high and tight, the sharp contrast etched in newly painted lines.

Sports is our shared bond, even between those who are fans of bitter rivals. Only two days a year are without a professional sports game in the United States,* and now we are faced with the prospect of a month or two without them. It hasn’t really had a chance to sink in, after a whirlwind of 24 hours of leagues and events toppling like dominoes.

But we now have a new shared bond. Our strength is drawn in a sacrifice that has not been seen since the Greatest Generation. When the U.S. went to war in the new millennium, there were really no sacrifices by the general population, a burden carried out by very few who served and by their families. No food rationing, no travel restrictions, no curfews, just live life as normal. We haven’t had that massive scale sacrifice in a very, very long time. We don’t know what it’s like. 

There is just so much that is unknown with this threat from COVID-19, but we were (and may still be) looking at the possibility of a 1%, 2%, even a 3% population drop, a casualty rate only seen in this country during the Civil War or native ethnocide. It is also possible that, while infection may become widespread, we might not see such a stark loss of life. We cannot take a chance when we do have a real opportunity to sacrifice for the greater good.

Slowly we have built a “me” society that is crossgenerational. Our ability to be empathetic has eroded. We must collectively heal, and going through the sacrifice of surrendering that which means the most to us is an important and necessary part of that healing process. There will be other sacrifices we will be asked to make, and sports is incredibly trivial in that regard. In a way, the enforcement of a safe social distance which keeps us physically separate may actually bring us closer when it is all done.

The world has been shifting to a nationalist undercurrent, but a pandemic knows not what the arbitrary lines on a map mean. While we do our part to recover as a nation, we also must not lose sight of the global healing that must also be done. Fences don’t always make great neighbors. The spiritual healing must also spread as much as the virus has.

It will be a long, strange journey, and we might find out more about ourselves and each other in the process.

We will have sports again. We will cheer our teams and curse the officials again. We will overcome. Together.

Wash your hands often.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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