Sports

COVID has the sports world running in place

Pictured: People who have COVID

Pictured: People who have COVID
Photo: Getty Images

This is my last Mourning After of 2021, and in some ways it feels like the first. Not that we’ve been running in place, so much as we sprinted around the track and ended up back where we started. Which is how Jerry Seinfeld described horse racing, I guess. “We were just here! What was the rush?!”

The stories all seem the same. The NHL and NBA seasons are a mess and we can’t really figure out how representative they are. Maybe we’ll know in February or March. We have crowds again, which we didn’t in January of 2021. But now you see crowds at sporting events, when they actually take place, and the only thing you can think is, “Is that really a good idea?” Or maybe, “Boy that probably won’t last too much longer.”

We still have organizations trying to see what they can get away with. Just yesterday, the IIHF had to cancel the World Juniors, which they tried to force through thanks to the TV contract they have for it. That didn’t stop them from canceling all other events in January, including the women’s U-18s for a second straight year. That doesn’t mean the IIHF took every precaution they could to make sure the tournament went off smoothly. The players weren’t bubbled, which meant the US and Czech squads were sharing a hotel with the general public, including a wedding reception. And this is in Alberta, which is something of the Florida of Canada (Canada actually has a couple Floridas, but Alberta is the biggest at least when it comes to handling Covid as their policy has basically boiled down to “fuck it”)

The NBA and NFL wanted to shorten isolation periods for their players that test positive, and then the CDC coincidentally (or not) went along with that. Did any of them have people’s health top of mind? Or was it to keep industry running as close to normal as they could? Those NFL playoffs are just a couple weeks away now.

All of it kind of leaves a lot of fans watching sports from a feeling of distance. You watch NBA, NHL, or even Premier League games at the moment, teams stripped down to the bare bones or whatever they could find outside the arena or gathering guys up from the local Y and wonder what it is exactly you’re watching. It’s not what you’re accustomed to, that’s for sure. It’s the same feeling as watching games in empty buildings. What is this, exactly? It feels like an impersonation of the game you’ve come for. A facsimile.

We wonder how these leagues will make up the games, and whether the schedules will still feel “real” with whatever method they come up with. There are NHL teams that have seven or eight games to make up. They can’t cram all of those in the now vacant Olympic break. Will the playoffs be warped when this is all said and done?

It’s more frustrating because it felt like we got to breathe the fresh air for just a second there, somewhere over the summer. Felt like we might have had a glimpse of what it would be like when this was all over. And now it feels we’re basically back at the start again (though vaccines actually mean we’re a fair distance from the start).

The problem at the base of it is that it’s hard to watch and talk about sports when you can’t escape the feeling that they shouldn’t be happening. I wanted to get excited about yet another Bulls tonking of the Hawks last night, but one can’t ignore how ravaged the Hawks roster is, and that people probably shouldn’t be gathering at the UC right now, and it’s hard to gauge what it meant in the long run, both in terms of the standings and society as a whole.

Hopefully this latest spike will fall faster than previous ones, as some have speculated it might. Hopefully we’ll get back to watching sports and it feels natural again, instead of having it yanked from out beneath our feet again and falling into yet another bear trap. But it gets harder to buy in this time around as it was last time.

Anyway, Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for reading. Hopefully 2022 brings us the time where we don’t have to discuss this shit any longer. 

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