Sports have gone AWOL — and may be gone for a while

What’s worse than being stuck at home for two months? Being stuck at home for two months without sports.

Now that we finally have an excuse to sit on the couch all day, we can’t truly enjoy our free time when there are no live sports on TV. Not only can we not watch our favorite teams, but there are a lot fewer things to talk about since all athletic competitions were suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

No March Madness. No NBA playoffs. No soccer, no baseball, no hockey (if you’re into that sort of thing). No nothing … unless you’re a fan of mixed martial arts or professional wrestling. The UFC returned this month — without fans, of course — and the last time I checked, the WWE is still staging TV-only events in empty arenas. (Maybe pro wrestling is considered “essential” in certain states?)

The only sports-related programming you can find on TV these days are recycled broadcasts of classic games and quarantined talking heads who have nothing to talk about besides the NFL draft. A few weeks ago, I watched three previously recorded NCAA tournament games in a row just so I could feel normal. More recently, I relived an incredible comeback by Manchester City to win the Premier League title in 2012. I also watched last year’s Masters, and I’m not even a golfer. Desperate times, right?

Just when it feels like our weekends couldn’t be any less eventful, we could be seeing more coronavirus-imposed downtime ahead. As the wave of cancellations begins to creep into the summer, I think we’re all a bit nervous that this stay-at-home situation might impact the football season. Millions of people will not know what to do with themselves from August through January if the college and NFL seasons are delayed (*gulp* canceled) due to the pandemic. Can you imagine going an entire year without the Seahawks, Huskies or Cougars? I shudder.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As of right now, there’s still a chance for a quick-and-dirty NBA playoffs, a shortened baseball season and an abbreviated MLS campaign. NFL and college football training camps may still start on time, and the high school teams could be going full speed again by mid-August. 

Then I read about how sports may be on hold nationwide until 2021 because of an anticipated second wave of the virus. This makes me nauseous to think about, but at this point, we all need to prepare for the possibility of a prolonged sports vacation. It would be a shame if all of our great pastimes went away, but most people I know recognize that we can’t take any chances with this pandemic. 

We’ve all heard the outbreak could get even worse this summer, forcing people in some parts of the country to retreat into their homes once again. Even if Washington doesn’t become a hotspot like it was at the beginning of this saga, we’ll still be impacted in one way or another. And I probably don’t need to remind you that Yakima County is currently the virus epicenter on the West Coast. With only four months left before the start of the fall season, that fact does little to improve my outlook. 

But even if sports are able to reconvene in September, I fear things won’t be the same. How can we truly enjoy the Friday night lights if we have to socially distance ourselves? Will temperature checks be required to enter stadiums? When someone inevitably coughs, will they be quarantined?

Then there are the athletes themselves. What would it be like playing any sport while wearing a face covering? Even if they figure out how to breathe normally, some masks will almost certainly come off through contact with other competitors.

On a related note, how will the officials blow their whistles? How can the band members play their instruments? How will we know if the cheerleaders are actually smiling? We may soon find out the answers to each of these questions. The reality is, most of us would accept these inconveniences if it meant sports could return in some capacity this fall.

Despite my less-than-optimistic view of what the future holds, I am rooting for all of our favorite activities to resume as soon as possible. Like many of you, I rely on sports for entertainment and to connect with others in the community. I enjoy talking about sports, writing about sports, standing on the sidelines as a photographer and running up and down the field as an official. 

Sports occupy a pretty good chunk of my free time, and I would be devastated if everything dried up for the rest of 2020. At the same time, I am willing to accept that life as we know it may have permanently changed due to what has transpired over the past two months. We may eventually return to our pre-coronavirus routines, but no one can truly return to “normal” until they feel safe. 

For me, that means a widespread testing and contact tracing program — something that the states have been tasked with developing in the absence of a federal response. Perhaps we’ll see a vaccine or a new drug that can effectively treat COVID-19, but those efforts are reportedly many months away. 

So, without a robust plan for testing and tracing — the control methods that have proven effective in places like Germany and South Korea — American sports fans may be confronted with an unexpectedly bleak sports landscape this summer and fall: No sports on TV, no sports events to attend, no sports to play and no sports to talk about.

At this rate, I may have to start watching the WWE.