A year to remember

The impact of COVID-19 on sports

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most sports were forced to play games with empty stadiums to keep all players, coaches and staff safe. “The atmosphere from the time we came out of the tunnel was unlike anything any of us have felt,” said New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty. “You can’t really envision what an NFL game is like without fans. This felt more like a high school scrimmage.”

Joseph Ebmeier, Staff Reporter

One year, 365 days, thousands of games cancelled, little to no fan attendance, nearly 30 million cases in the United States, over 500 thousand deaths, all because of one global pandemic. March 11, 2021 marked one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began to rapidly take over the entire sports world. 

March 11, 2020 is a date that will haunt sports fans forever. Most of the day went on as normal, sporting events played on, and the disease was thought of as an issue far away from the United States. That all changed however, at 8:27 p.m., when the news broke that would send the sports world into a whirlwind. Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to break the news that the Utah Jazz starting center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. A mere four minutes after this news broke, the NBA came out with a statement saying that they were suspending the 2019-2020 season “until further notice.”

The day came to an end, people were fearful for the rest of the NBA season, but optimistic that the disease would not impact other sports. Early in the morning on March 12, 2020, news broke that teammate of Gobert, star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the virus. The fear of many fans was quickly turned into reality when the Big 10, AAC, SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 cancelled the remainder of their men’s college basketball tournaments within a span of 55 minutes. Despite all these cancellations, including every power five conference, the Big East was determined to play their games. Creighton and St. Johns played all the way till halftime before players and coaches were pulled off the court. Just before the second half began, they were informed the game was cancelled. The scarier part was that all of these events took place prior to 12:30 p.m.

The rest of the day continued a downward spiral, the NHL suspended its 2019-2020 season, the NFL cancelled its league meeting for later in the month and the MLB cancelled its spring training, along with many other announcements, postponements and cancellations. However, none of the news mounted up to the message the NCAA delivered at 3:16 p.m. The NCAA announced that it had cancelled all remaining winter and spring championships, including March Madness and the College World Series.

The rest of March and well into April consisted of hundreds of events being cancelled, pushed back, or simply unplayed. However, one professional league decided to change that on April 30. The NASCAR Cup Series made an announcement that they were scheduled to return to racing on May 17 at Darlington Raceway. The announcement came in time for them to hold the event under all the proper CDC guidelines and regulations, which sadly meant no fans could attend the event. The return of NASCAR would mark the first major live sporting event to take place since the shutdowns began. Despite everything stacked against them, NASCAR held the event, and the race was won by Kevin Harvick.

In a post race interview Harvick said “I’m just really honored and really thankful for all of our front-line workers, not only our doctors but grocery stores, fire fighters, police departments – you name it. All of you front-line workers are the reason that we’re here today, and our country is actually still running.”

This brought NASCAR back to the mainstream news and played a big part in their viewership numbers skyrocketing. It also brought some new faces to the sport; this season, NBA legend Michael Jordan and Pitbull both have part ownership of new teams in the series. Other sports began to take notice and admire NASCAR for their determination to return to the field of play.

The NBA was the second one to take action as they announced they would return to play on July 31, however only 22 teams would continue to play, as opposed to the full league of 30. The league decided on using a bubble format in an attempt to limit the exposure players would get if they constantly traveled from arena to arena. The location they decided on was the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The NBA guidelines worked well, and they were able to finish out their season, with zero players testing positive once they entered the bubble. On October 11, the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned NBA Champions.

The NFL season started on time, however the biggest change, for them, was playing without fans in attendance for most of the season. NFL stadiums have some of the best environments in the entire sports world, and players are used to thousands of fans cheering and screaming at them, so it was difficult for them to get used to silence. Many players described it as “strange” or “like a high school scrimmage.” As the season progressed, partial attendance was allowed and by the time of the Super Bowl, 22,000 fans were in the stands when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the Kansas City Chiefs.

The MLB, however, had a much tougher start getting their season going and started four months after their original start date. The league and players could not agree on terms for the bubble idea, so instead, the teams traveled all over the country to play their games. Despite not using the bubble format, the MLB was able to play the 60 game schedule they had planned for and crowned the Los Angeles Dodgers as World Series Champions.

As we recognize the one year anniversary of COVID-19 taking its toll on the sports world, many were obviously angry about all the games and events that were cancelled and the fans could not attend. However, we still need to be thankful for the fact that seasons were played at all, and the determination of the leagues, players and coaches showed. But we must never forget the date that gave us a new meaning of normal, March 11, 2020.