In times of trouble, in times of terrorism, in times of uncertainty, there have always been sports. There to distract. There to inspire. There to rally.
Just not now, it seems.
March Madness is canceled. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are suspended. Even high school and youth tournaments have been halted or canceled.
When are they coming back? No one can say. Or even say they will return this year.
It’s more than sports television executives scrambling to fill airtime they never imagined would go dark. It’s sports fans in general, who suddenly have a void in their life at a time when life seems so uncertain.
The coronavirus has overtaken the world, bludgeoning stocks, canceling vacations, emptying schools. Life in America today is not life in America three days ago, let alone three weeks. Information is confusing. Sourcing can be difficult.
Panic. Don’t panic. We’re going to be fine. We are not going to be fine. Who is going to watch my second grader tomorrow?
All of it leads to stress, anxiety, fear. Some manage it well. Some less so. Financial concerns. Health concerns. Family concerns.
And now there is no way to clear your mind for a couple of hours and just watch some games. The NCAA, among others, made the only sensible decision given the information and predictions from authorities. Having student-athletes assume additional risk to play a game was problematic, and not just due to the potential legal liability.
But boy, America could have used the NCAA tournament this year, maybe more than ever. The volume of programming hours could have distracted. The push for the Final Four could have swept people up in something other than medical news.
And every 12 seed over a 5 seed would have taken on even more meaning.
Instead, that’s gone. So, too, is the daily grind of pro basketball and hockey — each sport looking to wait this out and protect its players before the far more important and valuable playoffs. Again, a simple and correct decision.
Presently, there isn’t much left. NASCAR will rev its engines in Atlanta. That’s about it. The sport may boom in popularity.
Yet, what others sports could have done over the next weeks and months and (gulp) more is exactly the best part of the pursuit.
There is nothing else in America that causes such shared memories. It’s why a scene such as President George W. Bush throwing the first pitch at Yankee Stadium after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was so powerful.
It meant something.
It’s why grandiose, pregame patriotic displays, especially during times of war, can be so stirring.
They mean something.
It’s why during World War II, baseball continued even as the best players went off to fight, everyone recognizing that the games, no matter the quality of them, helped lift a nation’s collective morale.
There is nothing quite like having something to point to, to look forward to, at the end of each day. The hum of a season or the burn of a big game melt away despair, even if just briefly.
On local levels, increasingly high school seasons are being put on the shelf. Even youth sports are getting stopped. For so many in this country, the habit of getting to practice, getting to games, cheering on kids and neighbors isn’t even there. For many high school and college athletes, their last chance to compete could end prematurely.
It’s not just the stars on television who are being affected.
These are unprecedented times in America, in all of the world. The routines of life have been altered. A measure of consistency, of familiarity, of shared calm really could have helped. A sign that somewhere normalcy still ruled.
It isn’t happening now, though.
We’ve gotten through a lot before. This time, we’ll have to get through it without sports. At least for now.