I quit full-time sportswriting six years ago partly because I was tired of the same old wheel, season after season, year after year—the Final Four to the NBA Finals to the World Series to the Super Bowl to the Final Four. But now that these events are inexplicably gone, I’d give my left pinky toe just to cuddle up with a cold beer and the Valero Texas Open.
This has never happened in American history. Sports is shut down, put up, and locked away. No March Madness, no NBA, no NHL, no golf, no tennis, no spring training, no NASCAR, no nothing. All I have is these two guys hitting a ball from one high-rise-apartment window to the other. I’ve watched it 11 times now.
Jemele Hill: The game cannot go on
I know we’re doing the right thing. Until the coronavirus calms down, Americans have to stay away from one another, and sports are the opposite of that. Fans, athletes, refs, writers, popcorn vendors, and sweat-mop boys have to avoid all contact. So, you know, just pretend you play for the Cleveland Browns.
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.
It would be for the public good. We need sports, any sports, if only to have one safe zone where we can talk with a crazy uncle without arguing about Donald Trump. We need sports because we now live in a world where each day seems to start with some previously unthinkable horror. Sports always gave us one happy place to end the night: ESPN’s SportsCenter, that blissful one-hour recap of all the things superhumans did that the rest of us can only dream of. Now SportsCenter is as empty as the toilet-paper aisle.
The other night, I turned on my local sports guy here in Los Angeles, just to see how he was coping. He had nothing. No Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Kings, nothing. He looked like a man who suddenly couldn’t remember where he lived. He shrugged and put on some interview he did with Magic Johnson back in the early 1980s.
I watched the whole thing.