On March 11, NBA commissioner Adam Silver moved to shut down the NBA season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Shortly after, professional hockey and baseball, which hadn’t begun their regular season yet, halted their operations as well. Sports everywhere stopped. This was unprecedented. Sometimes a sport will be delayed in its start due to a strike or a holdout on the players part. However, in those cases, the rest of the sports world imperviously moved forward. But not this time.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when colleges were sending kids home, sports leagues found that they were not immune to what was happening in our world.
The pandemic raged on through the spring and into the summer. The United State’s cases continued to rise, and sports still hadn’t figured out a way to effectively and safely resume activities.
Adam Silver and the NBA board of governors came up with an idea—they’d take all the teams in the playoffs or close and put them in a ‘bubble’. All games would be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando and the players would remain right there until the end of the season.
Baseball adopted a similar strategy. Shortened to a 60-game season, the schedule was re-made to limit teams traveling across the United States. They began to play with many COVID-19 protocols and of course, no fans in attendance. Games began July 23, and as soon as July 27, the Miami Marlins experienced an outbreak of 20 cases, resulting in the postponement of games. Throughout the season, there have been many small outbreaks and postponements. The Los Angeles Dodgers have played 35 games, the most of any team in the league. The St. Louis Cardinals have only played 24, and the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins have played 28.
Just a month prior to the restart, George Floyd, a name you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, died in police custody. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests that even spread globally. Baseball and basketball followed suit. The NBA voted to allow players to wear custom words, such as “Equality” or “Freedom” or “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their jerseys. Baseball etched the initials “BLM” into some of their pitching mounds and the Boston Red Sox unveiled a massive “Black Lives Matter” billboard in right field. Players routinely wear shirts with the same phrase before games.
After Jacob Blake’s shooting, an incident also heard around the world, NBA players voted to postpone games in protest. Several MLB teams followed suit. Shortly after on Jackie Robinson Day for baseball, many teams took to the field, observed a 42-second moment of silence and then walked off and postponed their games. Several NBA players, coaches and owners have formed a “justice coalition” dedicated to taking concrete steps towards fighting racism.
Sports, often a reflection of the state of our world, are directly mirroring what is going on today. There are no fans in attendance due to safety concerns over COVID-19. There are protests going on directly involving leagues, teams and players. Sports have often been seen as an escape from reality and many have decried the “political involvement” of sports today. However, sports can’t be an escape from reality when reality becomes too much to ignore.