Sports are seen as a uniting force. Yes, people each have their favorite leagues to watch, their own favorite teams to follow and opposing rivals to knock down, something that often leads to heated emotional debate.
And yet that is exactly the point. At the end of the day, sports are just another game for most fans. There are an elite few that make their professional careers off of it, but for the average viewer, it is just a game, a piece of entertainment after a long day of work or school. But the attention and care it garners are like few other things. On one hand, it is a necessary distraction from people’s daily lives. But on the other hand, it can actually be regarded as a focal point—something that draws in attention. It brings family and friends together to sit on the couch with a bag of popcorn and just watch.
For the first time in over a century, and for the first time since before some professional leagues were officially founded, sports came to a full halt exactly a year ago today. After the NBA was the first to indefinitely suspend their games on March 11, 2020, the sports world as a whole followed within hours. All four major North American sports leagues—NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL—delayed whatever points they were at in their respective seasons. Soccer leagues across Europe, ATP/WTA tennis worldwide, golf and NASCAR racing all came next. Then there were college and minor level teams that decided to follow in the footsteps of their main club counterparts. By the time the night of March 12, 2020, rolled around, sports in its entirety stopped—something unimaginable just 36 hours prior.
In the following months, however, the leagues slowly started to find their own ways to play games again. There were certainly things that were adapted and changed to fit into the new reality, including, maybe most notably, not being able to have live fans at games. None of this, however, has changed the feelings of disappointment, passion and relief that fans all feel toward their favorite teams on game nights, even if it was now only from afar.
Many have alluded to the fact that the time we’re in has likely even helped support mental health, with sports being used as a crucial outlet to overcome many dark moments and isolation, something that has unfortunately been more of a commonplace occurrence over the last year. As mentioned in an article by the Huffington Post, the psychologist Daniel Wann captured this concept in his book. He explained, “We’ve known for years in psychology that feeling connections and affiliations with others is important for well-being. What fandom allows you to do is to gain those connections, which then in turn provides you with social and psychological health,” in a Huffington Post article. As the website Statista proved in a survey on the effects of sports without live fans, just under half of the people thought this absence made no difference to the sport. They were still prepared to watch and care, just as much as they had before. Only four percent said that no fans actually made watching more enjoyable: Not many argued that losing fans makes their experience better in any way.
As reported by Sportsnet, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins Mike Sullivan put it straightforwardly, “What I have thought about is the importance of sports during a difficult time and how passionate people are around the respective sports and the role that we play in society.” He went on to explain, “For me, this is an important moment for our league and our game and, maybe most importantly, our fans.”
This has been a trying time for many people throughout the world, and sports has been no different. Through all the changes and adaptations it had to at least temporarily undergo however, the strength and togetherness it has brought into the world has stayed just as constant and in a time that needed it more than ever before.