For the QC
As fans celebrated Superbowl Sunday on Feb. 2, 2020, when the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Superbowl in 50 years against the San Francisco 49ers, the last thing on their mind was the fear that this was the beginning of the end.
Soon, COVID-19 would shift the way the entire world interacted and, with it, the way sports would continue. Perhaps one of the few to acknowledge the threat a global pandemic posed to our fragile world was Bill Gates. “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war,” said Gates in 2015. A year later, COVID-19 has killed over 2.34 million people worldwide — a number that will continue to rise, but we can hope will not meet the number Gates predicted. Yet, there is no denying the ways the pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our social world, albeit less severe than the growing death toll.
This pandemic did not just infect people; it also infected the sports world. Due to COVID-19, we saw the NCAA March Madness for both men and women get canceled, NBA and NHL pause their games mid-season, high school sports come to an abrupt end, and so on. The sports world was in an unprecedented event that affected athletes and fans alike. Whether we knew it or not at the time, sports would prove to hold a cure for the social decay of COVID-19, giving hope to fans and possibly even to athletes themselves.
COVID-19 has infected every aspect of our lives. Essential workers, from healthcare to agricultural workers, paid the ultimate price of their life because of the careless handling of the pandemic. We are left to grieve in an unfamiliar world seen primarily through our screens, and athletes are not separate from this. Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves lost seven members of his family to COVID-19, including his mother. “I play this game more because I just loved watching my family members seeing me play a game I was very successful and good at. It always brought me a smile when I saw my mom at the baseline and in the stands and stuff and having a good time watching me play,” Towns said. “So it’s going to be hard to play. It’s going to be difficult to say this is therapy. I don’t think this will ever be therapy for me again. But it gives me a chance to relive good memories I had.”
However, from March 2020 to July 2020, live sports channels were mostly barren, with echoes of news about the pandemic and President Trump’s actions (or lack thereof) haunting seemingly every channel. In May of 2020, ESPN began televising Korea Baseball Organization games and many channels replaced live sports with eSports. Yet, this did not quite seem to fill the hole sports had filled in many fan’s hearts and hopes.
Another symptom of this pandemic is decreased mental health, which is another place where sports step in. After the Boston Marathon Bombing, in the MLB that same year, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series Championship. Following the horrific event that revealed the violence of the world to those whose privilege’s had previously sheltered them, seeing the Boston Red Sox win the championship for that city gave those people this sense of new hope that, no matter what, through many tribulations, Americans would overcome that and become better because of that.
A similarly galvanizing moment happened when then-president George W. Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series in the aftermath of the 9–11 terrorist attacks. (Regardless of what you think of the man, it was a strike down the middle.) This pandemic took that hope and collectivism of sports away from the people, but, perhaps, sports has had the power to return that.
On Oct. 12 and Oct. 17 of 2020, when the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers went on to win the championships in their respective sports, the hope that sports grants was restored. These teams winning the championship could not have come at a better time. In the midst of a pandemic the city of L.A., the epicenter of COVID-19 in California, were exceedingly ecstatic celebrations as they crowned two L.A. teams as champions. It was a long time coming for both teams, as the Lakers won their first championship since 2010, and the Dodgers had won their first championship since 1988. In 2020, the horrific year that it was, these two championships allowed people and the city of L.A. to catch their breath and rejoice as people did the Sunday of the Superbowl before the pandemic.
Stars from all industries congratulated both teams on their wins. Snoop Dog, Jack Nicholas, and Shannon Sharpe congratulated the Lakers, while Magic Johnson and Pedro Gomez congratulated the Dodgers. Many more celebrities did as well, of course. For most of us ordinary fans, these victories had a slightly different meaning. LeBron James translated this victory off of the court and established schools serving under-funded communities in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Through a pandemic and continued police brutality, James argued for racial justice and voting rights for all, triumphing over the doubters and haters.
Clayton Kershaw brought a similar story of triumph. Although Kershaw has been jeered for his past playoff performances and injuries, he never made excuses, or blamed anyone else. His charity work has raised millions of dollars to help underprivileged kids in the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, and his hometown Dallas, Texas. Kershaw has also been active in raising money to benefit organizations in Dallas and L.A. combatting the pandemic.
Despite the obstacles these men faced in the pandemic — countless critics and opposing fans — they managed to bring home the championship win for their respective teams. Seeing them win the titles showed people all over the world that good guys are still capable of winning, even after a horrific year such as 2020. In this, we found narratives of hope and resilience that fortify us with the idea that this pandemic is going to end, and, once it does, we will be better because of it.
Vaccines might be the physical cure for COVID-19, but, for mental and emotional strength, the cure can be sports. Sports brings people together from different cultures, backgrounds, traditions, (and politics), and allows them to bond over the love of the game. This bond can give people the hope they need to keep fighting in life. Looking forward to spring training, football Sundays, and The Masters for golf, can help people push through their tribulations because it serves as a reminder that there can be triumph after struggle. Hope is a powerful thing, and, while it may seem like COVID-19 is stripping it from us, sports wins and athletes’ community support can show us that our hope is still within us.
Hope helps you get to the other side, even after great setbacks. Seeing LeBron James and Clayton Kershaw and their teams of good-guys win was not just a win for the city of L.A., it was a win for all of us. Victory came as a reminder that we will triumph over the pandemic if we can stand as a team, a community.
Featured Image: Courtesy of AP Photo/Charlie Riedel