I’ve now watched eight different American professional sports leagues play games since the COVID-19 outbreak. The NHL and NBA most recently joined MLB, the WNBA, MLS, the PLL, MLL and World Team Tennis (the NWSL also returned but unfortunately almost no games were available on television so I never got to see them) in returning to regular-season or playoff/tournament action.
After waiting some four months for any sports at all, this sudden bonanza has been a bit overwhelming. I’ve decided to compile five thoughts related to what we’ve seen so far in the sports world.
1.) Largely, everyone is doing about as well as can be expected with their presentations.
Baseball has probably provided the worst presentations so far, the massive stadiums so obviously empty. While the internet has poked fun of the cardboard cutouts some teams have used, they provide a far more pleasant aesthetic than the swaths of nothingness we see otherwise. FOX’s digital fans are a bust. No one is confused by what we’re looking at. The best thing you can do is minimize the attention paid to it.
That’s why the NBA and WNBA have probably handled their presentations the best. They’ve essentially created television studios in their bubble arenas, making for the most enjoyable viewing experience. (And the NBA’s digital crowd concept actually looks quite good, too.)
The noises are weird. The producers are trying. There’s no playbook for any of this. But none of it has made sports unwatchable. MLS has terrible camera angles in their bubble in Orlando and it has been obvious a few times that broadcasters weren’t at the venue. Other than that, the presentations have been pretty good in this new world.
2.) Yes, baseball is making things up as they go. If we’re going to get through the season, we’ll have to deal with that.
The Orioles are scheduled to play four games against the Miami Marlins this week. Those games will be played … sometime. (And a threatening storm has further complicated a situation even more complicated than what Avril Lavigne can handle.)
Rob Manfred threatened to shut things down and then backed off that threat the moment someone asked him about it. He’s obviously trying to deal with baseball players in a manner similar to how I deal with my 5- and 3-year-olds. “Stop hitting each other or else!” “Or else what, dad?”
The commissioner doesn’t really have an “or else” here. The sport stands to make a ton of television money if it can just get to the postseason. He obviously wants players to stop hanging in casinos and understand that they need to act like they’re in a bubble despite not actually being in one. But he’s gonna have to make stuff up if we’re going to get to a postseason. Seven-inning doubleheaders might have to occur on back-to-back days (those 28 innings are roughly the same as playing a normal doubleheader and a third game in the span of two days). Home games in road stadiums will be commonplace.
Baseball wants a postseason. We don’t want baseball to end. We’re gonna have to get used to this.
3.) But the extra-inning thing is the greatest thing and those of us who didn’t see it coming, to put it eloquently, are “stupids.”
I once predicted Adam Jones would force his way out of Baltimore by the midway point of the 2012 season. THAT take wasn’t as dumb as the takes we heard about the extra-inning rule.
It’s the best thing that’s happened to baseball in decades. There’s fascinating decision making, constant action, Monday morning quarterbacking, Ji-Man Choi getting thrown out at third base by about 10 yards, leadoff two-run home runs and leadoff double plays and so much more. Stefon from “Saturday Night Live” thinks these extra innings have had EVERYTHING.
Just imagine how much more exciting they’ll be in the future when we have fans in the stands losing their minds in these scenarios. (Because obviously MLB has to keep this rule in place moving forward. It’s way too good.)
I’m probably still in the camp that says we shouldn’t use the rule in the postseason, but I’m not sure why. I think I’m just supposed to say that, really. The product is so exciting that the postseason version of the extra-inning rule might create the most compelling baseball theater we’ve seen … ever.
4.) Concerns about the quality of play without fans in the stands have largely been overblown.
Sports without fans have largely looked … exactly like sports. The atmosphere is different, but these are the greatest athletes in the world playing against the other greatest athletes in the world (and also the Red Sox pitching staff). They’re driven to compete and they’re competing.
Perhaps football could still be a concern here, but I’m less convinced of that. “Home-field advantage” has perhaps been neutralized, but the quality of play hasn’t remotely been impacted.
5.) If you think the media is “rooting” for these sports to fail, you are, to put it eloquently, a “stupid.”
I don’t know if we’re going to be able to have major college football (kudos to some student-athletes for recognizing their value) or the NFL play full seasons this fall. By saying that, I’m not “rooting” for football to not be played. I’m weighing whether it will be safe to play and whether any of this matters in the grand scheme of life.
Dr. Zachary Binney is an epidemiologist. He knows about a billion times more than us. He told Glenn Clark Radio “I love football … and I’m really worried” about whether we will be able to play in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. He’s not “rooting” against sports, either.
This concept — which has been spewed by the dumbest of dumb fans — is flatly absurd. The idea that those in sports media should somehow be responsible to turn their heads to 150,000 American deaths and just say “the hell with that, we need to force these guys to play!” is a concept so far beyond the pale it … unfortunately seems to fit perfectly in American discourse these days.
I’m desperate to find a parallel here but simply can’t. If I were a restaurant reviewer and found out that a hip new food trend was potentially causing disease, would I have an obligation to say “yeah but it’s great for the industry if we just keep selling it?”
We’re not rooting against sports. We could probably use a little more nuance than just saying “shut it down!!!” on Twitter. But what we could really use is a little more nuance and critical thought in general. That shouldn’t be asking for too much.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox