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The day the sports world died

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Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull (56) throws during the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, September 13, 2020, at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Connor Lannen

March 10, Petoskey, MI – The air was crisp and the parking lot was eerie as I walked out of North Central Community College following, what I did not know at the time, would be my last in-person class for the year.

That macroeconomics class was not a very typical class as Michigan State had announced that day that they would be suspending in-person classes for over a month which led to lots of “my friend from here told me this” type of discussion. 

Following my class, I went to Applebee’s with two of my friends who had just gotten home due to Michigan State closing down. The conversations over dinner were very similar to those that took place during class, and probably very similar to the conversations taking place all over America. The chaotic day caused confusion all across the country, as well as the world. 

The glow of the TV’s surrounded us throughout dinner and that remarkably familiar sound of “Sportscenter Breaking News” filled the quiet Applebee’s. Our attention was drawn to the screens as “Rudy Gobert tests positive for coronavirus, Utah Jazz game postponed” appeared all over the restaurant. 

The breaking news was shocking, however, what came in the following days and weeks was something beyond our wildest imaginations. As we all now know, the coronavirus pandemic caused a lot more than just that Utah Jazz game to be canceled or postponed.

It felt as if we were living in a simulation for the remainder of that week. On a typical day, I pick up my phone and have numerous alerts from Bleacher Report or ESPN or a handful of other sports news outlets, notifying me of a change in-game score or recent acquisition. During this miserable week in March, every time my phone lit up it was notifying me of another cancellation.

“They can’t cancel March Madness right?”

 “The NBA has less teams than college so they will for sure be back soon.”

 “I’m sure they will find a way to test all the players and will be right back on schedule within a week or two.”

 Those were the type of comments that would flow through my group chat as more and more cancellations became official. 

Obviously, there were a lot more important things than the professional sports world at the time and the leagues had to make the cancellations for the better of the rest of the country. With that being understood, a diehard sports fan like myself was in awe. I had only seen a handful of non-weather related cancellations in my lifetime and as twisted as it sounds, that was how I knew how serious this pandemic was.

I know that line of thinking won’t register for some people and there were other real-world horrendous attributes that showed this pandemic was serious. To add a little perspective, the only events in American history that have caused sporting events to be canceled is a very short list. That list consists of World War I, President Warren G. Harding’s Death, World War II, D-Day, and 9/11. 

The old saying “some things are bigger than sports” reigns true and all of the hardship of the past year was indeed bigger than sports. It is interesting to compartmentalize how rare of an occasion that even singular sporting events get canceled, let alone entire leagues. When you acknowledge that and think about how it didn’t even seem like a question that all sporting events were going to be canceled, it is easy to see how truly serious and out of the ordinary the past several months have been.

As a fan, it was a miserable few months of having no sports to talk about or get excited about. To me, sports are therapeutic, sports have helped me build relationships, sports have brought me out of dark times. Although some things are bigger than sports, the seemingly trivial games to some, mean a lot more to many others.

The sports world did come back and although they took different approaches to the pandemic, the MLB, NBA, and NHL all found a way to finish their prospective seasons. The NFL started on time, college football even came back across the country, and The Masters were held in November.

Just because I can turn on Sportscenter and hear real conversations about present sporting events, something still does not feel the same. Very few professional sports stadiums across the country are allowing fans at the games anymore. I have to worry about players on my fantasy football team getting COVID-19, and many sports fanatics that I know do not have the same spark revolving around the games.

How long will this last? That is the question that people from all industries across the country ask themselves several times a day. While it may seem trivial to have serious worries if the sports world will ever return to normal, it is a serious concern to me. Will I ever have the opportunity to be 20 feet away from the catcher as the pitcher throws a 97 mph, top corner of the zone, fastball to record the last out and walk off the field victorious?

Questions like this flow through my mind daily. I miss the smell of the freshly cut grass, the roar of the fans, the derogatory chants that the entire section of the stadium gets in on, hell, I even miss paying $9 for a hotdog wrapped in tinfoil.

I miss it all. My childhood vacations revolved around traveling to baseball stadiums across the country and waiting in line for the chance to get an autograph from each team’s star player. It is hard to explain my love for sports and how big of a part of my life that they have been.

The sports world is so extraneous to a lot of people but to me it is extraordinary. It is my passion and I have always wanted to have my professional career revolve around sports. I think that the sports industry is one industry that will survive the pandemic, because I know there are a lot of people out there that hold the same feelings and love for the game that I do. 

I wish I knew when it would be safe to go to a professional sporting event again and riot in the streets with a whole city after a championship win. The things I would give and money I would spend to see the Lions rip my heart out again would scare some people but would not make me think twice. 

Looking back at that cold March night sends a shiver down my spine. We were so naive and had no idea what was ahead of us. It feels as if March 10, at least momentarily, was the day the sports world died.