March 12th, 2020.
My boyfriend and I were hours away from leaving town and heading down to Jacksonville, FL for the Players Championship at Sawgrass. At the beginning of 2020, we sat down and planned several months of events to attend including the Players, Masters, and Heritage Tournaments, a few concerts thrown in, followed by a trip to Cancun, all leading up to our college football season tickets. You know, the usual. We would soon learn that COVID and sports do not mix.
COVID And Sports
For the Players, we had Championship Club seats for that Friday and Saturday overlooking the No. 16 fairway and No. 17 green. We spent all week prior making personal bets on who would be on the leaderboard that weekend. The day we were to head south, text messages were exchanged between us all morning, making sure we had everything ready in my car to leave right after work. I was geared up to see Phil, DJ and Speith on the iconic 17th green.
Then, the ESPN notification came in around noon.
“No fans on site for the Tournament on Friday”.
You cannot be serious.
This is not happening.
Among emails from Sawgrass with apologies and information about refunds were updates on the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization had just recently declared as a “global pandemic”. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, yada yada. All updates that I had skimmed right past, because, come on… it won’t happen here… right?
I was so wrong.
In fact, it had only been the night before that another notification, this time from Twitter, had come through.
Sources say Gobert is feeling good, strong and stable — and was feeling strong enough to play tonight.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2020
I’ll Never Forget The Day…
Looking back, it has become one of those “Where were you when…” moments in time.
The beginning of 2020 was a series of events that went from not really knowing why the tipoff between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was being delayed to not knowing whether we would ever be able to step foot in a stadium again. And it had escalated quickly.
Within a few hours of finding out about Gobert, the entire NBA season was suspended. Then someone sent me a tweet about Rita Wilson testing positive for COVID-19. In the following days, the NFL, NHL, and MLB all closed access to players and practices; fans weren’t allowed. And as more and more games and tournaments were cancelled, workplaces and schools began to shut down as the word “essential” became the word of the day. Every day.
Losses Piling Up
Within 24 hour hours, I had nothing to write about other than the fact that there were no sports. After the Players Championship was completely cancelled after only a single round, I sat in a hotel lobby with a copy of USA Today and a cup of coffee. The headline read “Corona Virus Pandemic: NCAA Cancels March Madness; NBA, NHL Suspend Seasons”. As I began to read the paper, I received a message stating that Augusta was going to postpone the Tournament.
The Masters? I grew up in Augusta; I had seen countless pro golfers grace the azalea-lined greens for over half of my life. The Augusta National can’t just postpone the Masters! I choked on my coffee the as I read the message, and for the first time, I got “the look”. It was early in the morning, so there weren’t a lot of people in the hotel lobby. But the employees that were walking around all turned and looked at me as if I was ground zero for the global pandemic. Not that I wasn’t taking the virus serious, but in that moment, a chill ran through my body, and I thought, “My goodness, this is real.”
No Fans Allowed
Over the following months, we, not just as Americans but the entire human race, became accustomed to terms such as “lockdown”, “quarantine”, and “flattening the curve”. And it wasn’t just the world of sports that had been canceled, the entire world itself seemed to stop turning completely. There was nothing to do, nothing to attend, nothing to cover, nothing to write about. By mid-summer, little rays of hope started to break through the cloud of pandemic. Sports slowly but surely trickled back into some sort of normalcy. First with baseball, then basketball and the Disney World bubble, which was not, in fact, the newest ride at the park.
And as we began to deal with COVID-19 in our everyday lives, let’s not forget the safety protocols that were demanded by a group of Pac-12 football players. They wrote a letter to the conference threatening to opt out of fall camps and subsequent games. But even as protocols were put in place and testing became a normal requirement to play, it seemed like sports in general just could not get started. Team after team withdrew from matchups due to players testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
Fast-forward to March 2021, a year after the world of sports was halted. Nothing is back to how it was prior to the pandemic, and I think we can all agree that the past 12 months have been the most inexplicable of any of our lives. The unknown, the panic, the limitations to everyday life and everything we thought as “normal”.
In fact, this is our new “normal”.
I remember sitting on my porch during the summer last year, reading an article about the unknown future of college football. In that moment, I realized that it was the first year in a very long time that I had not attended one Braves game, one golf tournament, one Gamecock basketball game, and now I was faced with the fear of no college football. No. College. Football. I could not comprehend world without it. For me, there were only two seasons in the year, college football and waiting for college football. The gridirion was not only my job, but my life! In that moment, I promised myself to never take being physically present in a stadium among thousands of fans for granted again.
Luckily, I did get to attend football games in 2020, but it was nothing like it had been. And it was nothing like it should have been. Twenty percent capacity, mask-donned faces, six feet of space between you and the people you loved to cheer alongside, no high-fives, and I spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out if there was crowd noise pumped into the stadium or not. It was… strange.
COVID-19 And Sports In 2021
Moving forward into 2021, it seems almost too good to be true that there are sports again. Golf has returned. The NCAA Tournament is underway. Spring training is upon us. And everyday, another team releases the stadium capacity they are allowing, along with protocols and recommendations for safety. College football is still a few months away, but Spring games are coming up quickly and schedules have been released. It may not ever be what we once knew as attending a sporting event. But it’s not something I will ever take for granted again.
Being deprived of sports made me more appreciative of the things that I once complained about, the luxuries I took for granted. Seven dollar beers, the annoying fan sitting next to me cheering for the opposite team, the long lines at the bathrooms, the clear bag policies, sweltering heat, freezing cold, even the unbearable losses. None of it matters anymore, I just want to watch a game live, to feel the vibrations of the stadium from the cheering and stomping after a touchdown, to hear the crack of a bat, to hear the deafening decibels of the crowd, to be a part of the team. I just want to hang out with 80,000 of my closest friends again.