A fish out of water: being a sports fan in a global pandemic

Ok, have a little bit of a confession to make: watching sports this past year has been incredibly dull. Phew. I said it. It’s out there. Apathy just seemed to creep in, slowly but surely, like a thief in the night. With every passing sporting event, my interest in what was happening on screen seemed to wane just a little more. I think that the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the World Series. Although I was elated to see the Dodgers win a well-deserved World Series and bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Los Angeles for the first time in decades, the moments leading up to then seem like a blur. I watched every game… maybe? After that, the NBA playoffs were fun to watch… but what was my favorite play of the postseason? I genuinely have no idea.
These lapses in memory are no mere byproduct of the time that has passed between then and now; they are symptomatic of a larger trend of disinterest in pandemic sports amongst sports fans. Moments that would otherwise feel real and impactful feel somehow disingenuous, as if the disclaimer “series abbreviated due to the COVID-19 pandemic” was constantly being broadcast across the bottom of the screen every time an instant replay occured. Valiantly, I held onto the quixotic hope that maybe once collegiate sports started up, I might end up reveling in the opportunity to watch college football and basketball. Alas, even my two favorite sports have failed to garner the same interest from me as they usually would. Do I still follow my favorite teams? Absolutely. Am I thrilled for the start of March Madness, provided that there are COVID-related safety protocols in place? You bet your bottom dollar that I am. So then, what’s wrong?
Sports need fans just as much as fans need sports, and COVID — merciless, fickle, COVID – drove a wedge between those two groups. On one side of the COVID dividing line, athletes are putting in their best efforts during these most challenging of sports seasons, giving up time with loved ones for the chance to compete in a COVID sports bubble. However, I think that they too are experiencing symptoms of sports apathy. Without a vast sea of fans doing the wave, athletes are nothing more than a fish out of water. The energy given to them by a crowd has been replaced with the eerie, soul-sucking silence of cardboard cutouts. On the other side, fans are left without the experience of seeing crowds go absolutely bonkers over a half-court, game-winning three-point shot, and even worse, the ability to be the crowd. There is no sense of community; there are only sports in a vacuum.
Although the past year of sports might seem to have been a complete and utter loss of time, they have provided us, the fans, the opportunity to reflect on what makes sports fun. We need each other to make experiences meaningful, and athletes need fans to break the monotony of empty arenas and meaningless seasons. I still love sports and I always will, and after this sports purgatory comes to a close, I will appreciate sports in a whole new light.