The State of Sport

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Hello again from La Crescenta / Glendale, CA. We are still on lockdown, and when we seem to take a step forward, we take a step back. The city announced on Friday that barbershops and hair stylists could open, and some restaurants can have in-house dining. Yet, since Saturday, we’ve been on early evening curfew. So even if I did get my hair cut, I couldn’t show it off after sundown. So it is generally status quo.

What isn’t status quo is the continued opening up of the sporting world. I make no bones about my love for sports, and that background of an event here and there is what is the least obvious thing that I miss. I miss it bad.

Part of it is how it ended. There was a 48 hour period where sport after sport suspended operations, some delaying the inevitable with early plans to play without fans, but that didn’t last long. In fact, the week it all went down, I had big plans. Two friends and I had planned a guys “pseudo-bachelor party” weekend in Nashville, centered around a hockey game. The guest of honor is a big Flyers fan, and they were playing the Predators. Over three or four days, our conversations went from”I’m all in”, to “I am in still even if they don’t play”. to “maybe we should hold off”. Three months later, no hockey, not hockey playoffs, not even a planned date to return.

Hockey, though, is one of the sports that do have a plan. When they get the go ahead, they will start a 24 team playoff that looks complicated on paper, but is going to be fun. They’ll play it at designated host cities where the entire Western conference will play in one city, and the Eastern in another. Nascar made it back early, racing in front of empty stands, and packed a bunch of races in the first few weeks that they might get in a full schedule by year end. Even if I don’t want to, I got to talk about basketball because De3an Innes is a Clippers fan. NBA are still trying to figure out what to do, and might have player problems when they get there. An NBA plan includes some regular season games, but players on teams out of the playoffs have said they won’t play. MLB is likely the most messed up, because players and owners are arguing over the pro-rating pay.

NFL is likely the least effected, though may play in front of empty stadiums. If you missed it, the NFL Draft was a spectacle. I love watching the draft anyway, but they did it remotely including cameras in houses for many of the teams. The Commish Goodell’s basement chair (and the rumors that he was replacing window screens between rounds) became a talking point. The star of the show happened when the NE Patriots made their first pick, the cameras went to Head Coach Bill Belachek’s house, which looked like he was set up on his dining room table … except it wasn’t him. Sitting at the computer was Nike Beleachek, the family dog.

Since I love sports of all kind, I would be remiss to ignore world wide sports … in fact I insist. This weekend, the National Rugby League, Austraila’s rugby league, returned to empty stadiums and piped-in crowd noise. I’m a passing fan of the NRL, but when it’s good it’s great. What I like is that one stadium has seats only on two sides, and in the end zones, resident houses are close enough to see the game … so they set up scaffold and invited their mates. On June 12, my really favorite Australian Sport – Aussie Rules Football – returns. They are being so careful that they have only set a schedule for the next month. Soccer is making a comeback. Germany’s Bundesliga has been back for almost a month. England, Spain, and Italy won’t be far behind with dates set.

What has benefited from the lockdown is eSports, or competitive computer games. What can be suprising about eSports for the uninformed is how massive it is already. The foundation of the eSports community is in Asia/ In South Korea, the top spectator sport is competitive Starcraft II .. and has been since the game was released, only because it replaced the then biggest sport, Starcraft, which had been huge since the late ’90s. A personal favorite, League of Legends (which deserves a blog to itself) is so big world wide that with World Finals drew more viewers than the Super Bowl. Players, most of them not even old enough to rent a car, can make over a million dollars a year playing professionally.

While eSports prefer games to be played in stadiums or studios – part for the fan involvement, and part for the competitive integrity — the lockdown allowed for the games to continue remotely. Networks like ESPN, FS1, and NBCSN, hungry for something to show that wasn’t a replay, routinely show eSports. The main ones are sports we know, like NFL Madden, or NBA 2K, or motor racing simulators; but they still find a way to make compelling TV. Whether or not support continues when we get live sports yet to be seen, but at least they are getting the attention they deserve.

For any sports fan now, we can take what we can get. It might even be professional cornhole, which is a thing, but it’s still something.

And I guess that is what we have right now … “It’s still something.”