What We Learned About Sports In A Year

BY NIC JONES Ball State Football | Ball State Sports Link

Sports do not stop.

For better or worse, American intercollegiate and professional sports have a culture that transcends the practices of the rest of the country.

No matter what’s happening, sports will always happen. It’s the glue of our country and we need it now more than ever.

The coronavirus pandemic shook the entire world in early 2020, and during a time of complete social uncertainty, one thing remained true: sports didn’t stop. Or at least for long.

When will they return? Which sport comes back first? How will they play the next season?

Those were questions on every sports fan’s mind. Regardless of the fact that an extremely contagious virus was storming the world, country by country, people needed their sports fix.

When sports came back in late July with the NBA & WNBA, fans everywhere rejoiced even if they couldn’t get to physically go see the games. Teams were playing in the “bubble” in Orlando with no outside fans permitted after months of discussion and delays.

It was as if in the midst of a pandemic, everyone needed sports to come to the rescue — or maybe just to serve as a distraction. 

I got to see firsthand how sports can impact lives in ways we never notice. The coronavirus had stripped America of its identity, and many attractions within the country became unavailable.

However, sports barely took a break. My college football team was a prime example.

While Ball State University suspended in-person classes and all athletic activities were ceased, we players always knew that something was bound to emerge from all the time off.

Sure enough we began to meet as a team virtually, and then worked our way back to campus in the later stages of the summer. While still in the middle – if not the height – of the pandemic, the NCAA higher ups were actively working on a plan to launch the 2020 season. 

In a time in America where we’ve been more divisive as ever, sports was the neutral zone. Whether it be a heated 2020 presidential election, a series of racially-motivated police killings which sparked national outcry and pushback, or a still unresolved virus — the people were still starving to let out their fandom.

Fans cheer the New York Knicks coming out to warm up for an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in New York. A limited number of fans were allowed to attend. (Wendell Cruz/Pool Photo via AP)

It’s safe to say sports conquers all as a peacemaker, middleman and mutual best friend for the world. Everything stands still when sports is alive and well.

You didn’t hear any mentions of COVID-19 during the Super Bowl, only about the halftime performance and the commercials. When the NBA Finals were on, LeBron’s legacy was hotly debated, and corona numbers weren’t reported as often.

Sports gives us something to talk about while not overlooking or bypassing the existence of COVID-19. We were finding things to keep us happy in our homes. Sports offer pride to those within the team and fanbases, and it’s something that not even the virus could slow down for long. 

Now, as a student in Ball State Sports Link, I also see sports from the other side. As much as athletes needed the games, so too, did those who also call this industry their careers — the storytellers, the producers, the production crews.

The mothership giant of ESPN saw its viewership suffer a major blow in the absence of live sports during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a year into the pandemic and sports back, the numbers are rising at a rapid pace — especially in the digital space.

According to Comscore, ESPN Digital opened 2021 recording the second-largest monthly audience in sports category history with 110.9 million unique visitors in January, only behind the 117.0 million unique visitors ESPN reached in the same month last year.

For context, this means that 40 percent of the entire U.S. internet population – not just sports category users – visited an ESPN property in January. This extends ESPN Digital’s leadership position to 35 straight months as the No. 1 U.S. sports category property.

But it’s more than viewers and numbers. Sports transcends.

When 2020 seasons were launched — collegiately and professionally — fans of all backgrounds came together to support one common cause. That common cause being their teams, not a presidential candidate or a mask versus no mask debate.

Sports promotes togetherness, I myself am a witness. While the government and health officials were unsuccessfully keeping larger city populations indoors and socially distant, teams like my football team at Ball State had athletes holding each other accountable to keep everyone healthy.

If we wanted to play we had to keep recording negative tests on a daily basis as at least a majority of the team. Too many positive tests and there goes a game for that week, postponement was initiated. 

If for nothing else on Earth, people will reconcile and peacefully exist for sports. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, what religion you’re in and if you even believe the coronavirus is real; if you’re a sports fan you share a mutual bond with millions of other strangers.

That’s what you are; man or woman, black or white, you’re all fans. We don’t have to share any similarities to play together or cheer together, sports are the only times where every human exists as one population.

No matter what gets in the way, sports do not stop.   

Author: Nic Jones