The other day, I read the saddest paragraph in sports history. It was in a how-to-isolate-yourself directive: “Shooting hoops solo is OK … Also permitted: hitting a tennis ball against a backboard.” (Cue soft whimpering.)
Here’s how bad it’s gotten: The other day I came upon two teenage boys throwing a football in the alley near my home. I stopped. My sports-starved brain took over from there. The lefty has a nice tight spiral, but I don’t like his footwork. I’d like to see the redhead catch more with his hands than his body. Still—Suddenly, I noticed they were looking at me like they were about to dial 911.
What do we do with ourselves? After Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded baseball’s commissioner, Kenesaw Landis, to keep baseball going to take people’s minds off the war. A week after 9/11, baseball was back on. But even sports can’t get us through this. It’s a planet-wide stoppage until … who knows? And when they do finally come back, Tom Brady won’t even be wearing a New England Patriots uniform. We are through the looking glass, people.
I’ve tried reality TV. Please. Sports are the only true reality TV. No writer scripts Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. No director says, “Okay, what we need here is the baseball to bounce off Jose Canseco’s head for a home run.” No studio is going to buy a movie in which the 199th draft pick wins six Super Bowls.
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Netflix? Amazon? Disney Plus? Sports have 10 times more drama, tragedy, and plot resolution, and nobody is acting. Sports have more passion, emotion, and tears than The Bachelorette, and the rings actually mean something. Sports have more cliffhangers, twists, and surprise endings than a screenwriters’ convention, and the sequels are miles better. I give you Ali-Frazier II vs. Caddyshack 2.
I’m a wreck. I find myself watching women’s WWE pro wrestling with nobody in the stands. It’s like watching a chef cooking without food. The whole point of pro wrestling is for the wrestlers to fake it, and for the crowd to fake like they don’t know it’s fake, and it’s all a fabulous 5,000-person fake-fest. But without a crowd, it’s just two magicians trying to trick their cats.
Now, real sports without fans? I was drooling for that. The Golden State Warriors were going to do it, and the NCAA was going to do an entire March Muteness. I get why they didn’t go through with it—a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus—but can you imagine how those games would have gone? The players would have heard every single thing the announcers were saying:
Play-by-play commentator: “Here’s the Nets’ DeAndre Jordan at the line. He’s a paltry 47 percent free-throw shooter.”
Jordan, turning: “Really, bro? You have to say that every time?”
Sports fans need something, anything. Please, ESPN, I beg of you: Remind us of what made us fall in love with sports in the first place. Please air these events in full:
- Jack Nicklaus’s 1986 Masters tournament
- the 1979 Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl
- the U.S.-U.S.S.R. hockey game at the 1980 Olympics
- the 2016 Cubs-Indians World Series
- every Michael Jordan dunk ever.