Ethan's Park: A sports column in a sports-less time

Shashi Arnold

It feels a bit funny to write a sports column at this point in our human history.

For as long as most Americans can remember, sports have always been a constant. Even during World War II, when the majority of male baseball players went off to war, women stepped up to the plate and kept the game running. After disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, sports gave a grieving country something to cheer for. But now, with the whole world—sports included—at a standstill, there’s frankly not too much to have a sports-related opinion about.

But in a time when writing a sports column of any kind seems futile amid the much larger problems in the world, this hiatus from sports has forced me to take pause and truly consider why sports are worth writing about in the first place.

There are few things in our society around which people can rally regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or politics—and sports are often one of them. Sports lure people in with spectacles of highlight plays and impressive displays of athleticism, but reels them in further with the truly unique community that it fosters. The thousands of people gathered for championship parades and tears of joy after a big win show how much sports mean to fans who relish this sense of community. And with that community comes a deep pride for one’s team that can give fans the one thing that so many people need right now: a sense of purpose.

This spirit of purpose within sports fans is not lost, even though any sense of normal routine has dissipated. In fact, the most heartening thing to come out of this quarantine for a sports editor like myself is that even without any sports on live television, the sports community may be more alive than ever.

One only has to log onto social media to see how sports fans are filling this void and keeping the spirit of sports alive. Many fans have taken to Twitter and Instagram to do what they do best by arguing, showing how much they care about their cities’ sports teams. Fans valiantly defend the honor of their favorite teams and players, displaying that sense of purpose and reinvigorating the competition and camaraderie that fuel sports on all levels.

Dozens of Twitter threads clutter the timeline, debating who would have hypothetically won the NBA championship or who had the best performance in the NFL Draft. And as if these existing debates weren’t enough to rile up sports fans across the internet, ESPN added gasoline to the fire with their docu-series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

With never-before-seen footage of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and head coach Phil Jackson in their final season with Chicago, each episode of the series reopened a can of worms regarding Jordan’s “Greatest of All Time (GOAT)” status.
Usually, arguments about the true GOAT of the NBA—often between the fans of Jordan and those of LeBron James—are long, winding roads to nowhere. As much as they show fans’ devotion to their respective superstars, they often end up with much more talking (or typing) than listening. But in this day and age, arguments about a GOAT title based primarily on the shaky grounds of subjectivity are reassuring to read, reminding me that the spirit of rivalry that sports bring out of fans and players alike is still truly alive.

While scrolling through arguments about who the greatest basketball player really is or reading the analysis and discussion following the NFL Draft, these past months have reaffirmed that the beauty of sports is their ability to create and foster community. Though sports may seem like a strange thing to care about with so much going on in the world, people find value in them because of the purpose it gives them, providing the groundwork for friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition in the face of such isolation and hardship.

Although it may be many more weeks before we get to see our favorite players lace up and hit the field or court, this time of reflection and online arguments should remind us to be thankful for the passion, purpose, and never-ending disputes that sports give us. 

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