Devastating Australian wildfires. Kobe Bryant’s death. A global pandemic. Asian Giant Hornets. Racism. Riots. Protests. Hurricanes. This year has been a tumultuous one. And we’re only halfway through.
In the midst of all the chaos, where does that leave sports?
The return to sports, like everything else in the world right now, is uncertain, at best. America’s favorite pastime is striking out on salary negotiations. Fans are itching for the seventh inning stretch, peanuts and crackerjacks. But baseball players, and the union behind them, “resoundly rejected” concessions sought by the MLB.
Not only are sports struggling with salary negotiations, but also in addressing the problem of what a safe return to sports looks like amid the Covid-19 crisis.
SportSpek spoke with Dain Blanton, Team USA’s 2000 Beach Gold Medalist.
“We’re in a situation where we’re trying to balance making a living with living,” Blanton said.
The former Olympian and current Head Men’s Volleyball coach for the University of Southern California, is providing his athletes with care packages made up of bands, medicine balls and jump ropes to accentuate the body weight training his players are undergoing in their garages, homes and local parks.
Blanton is curious to watch how the nation reopens in phases. Restaurants won’t have the capacity they once had, and waiters will likely be serving customers in masks. And when it comes distancing in sports?
“Are the referees going to have masks on when we’re playing? Are the players going to have any protection?” Blanton said. “Those are all big unknowns I think that everyone is trying to figure out. Everyone is going to be hyper-germaphobic, and cleaning everything when they go to the gym,” he said.
Blanton is right. A RunRepeat study found an 88% increase in exercise during Covid-19. Yet, despite the increase in physical activity, another RunRepeat study of 10,824 gym members reported 46.67% of members won’t be sweating in the gym anytime soon.
The NBA also experienced some heated debates as to what the playoffs would look for basketball. Plenty of proposals were on the table–unique tournaments, pool play and other options. But ultimately, Michael Jordan’s voice boomed louder than any others in deciding playoff format in return to play.
Many of you likely watched ESPN’s Michael Jordan Documentary, The Last Dance during quarantine. In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls allowed a film crew to follow them as they went for their sixth NBA title in eight seasons.
Decades after leading the Dream Team on the court, MJ continues to leverage his love for the game and emerges as “clearly the most respected voice in the room” when it comes to basketball.
“I think ultimately, and I agreed with Michael, that there’s so much chaos in the world right now – I mean, even before the racial unrest that we’re experiencing now – that let’s come as close to normal as we can and as close to normal as we can is the top eight in the West and the eight in the East playing four rounds of seven games so that’s what we intend to do and our goal is to crown a champion.” Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA said during a special Thursday night episode of Inside the NBA on TNT.
After much deliberation, the NBA, and the NBPA both approved Adam Silver’s plan to send 22 teams to the playoffs, as opposed to the traditional eight. Many of the teams were on the brink of qualifying for the last few seeds in the traditional playoff structure. This approval allows most teams on the edge a fair shot at winning the NBA Finals.
The world is trying to figure out how to best navigate uncharted waters. Even after all the decisions are made, what will sports look like?
Can sports and athletes compete without the screaming cheers of a crowd? To the noise of a lone basketball echoing throughout an empty stadium, or the clear crack of a bat hitting a ball?
“Imagine athletics without an audience,” Blanton said. “It would be fascinating.”
While some sports will get back into the groove quicker, others may struggle. Time will determine what a modified sports existence will look like in our continually changing world.