At times like these, when boredom and anxiety intersect with bravery and wonder, I lean on inspirational author Theodor Geisel to get me through.
“Oh the thinks you can think,” Dr. Seuss wrote.
Ain’t it the truth?
A lot of thinks are being thunk these days. COVID-19 has made sure of it. Three words to summarize being stuck inside the same eggshell-white walls for weeks on end: Wander. Stare. Reflect. With a side order of pondering.
Some of our thoughts overflow with optimism. Imagine how good the meal will taste when we can again be seated at a restaurant. And FaceTime really is a fantastic way to stay connected with family who we too often ignored before the coronavirus pandemic awakened our relational gene.
Some thoughts, however, drip with dystopian darkness. Don’t report me, but I wonder what would happen if the world witnessed its first generational war, in which millennials and Gen-Xers rose up against Boomers and the Greatest Generation — please, no snarky “It’s already happening” comments — in protest against protecting the aging at the expense of incapacitating the young. I claim book and movie rights.
As someone who writes about sports, my thoughts lean toward curious possibilities and current unknowables. Will stadiums remain empty when games resume? When will rims be reattached to basketball backboards in city parks? What will it be like interviewing Joe Burrow from 6 feet away? Should reporters risk illness — their own and their subjects’ — by squeezing into the scrum surrounding Tiger Woods? Is wholesale testing close? Is a vaccine the only way most fans return to the stands?
The genius of Dr. Seuss is in first challenging readers to consider various oddities of thought before eventually getting them to apply the questions to themselves. Let’s do the same.
As we don our masks and take our daily walks, the thought occurs, “Do sports really matter?” Just as social distancing and its side effects force us to distill fact from fiction and half-truths, we need to separate falling sports attendance numbers from the bigger picture; many millions of people still find sports important.
Attendance at Major League Baseball games has been declining since 2012, but about 69 million fans still attended games during the 2019 regular season. That’s a lot of mattering.
Should sports matter? Have they become too big? According to market researcher YouGov’s ratings of active sports personalities, 92% of Americans have heard of LeBron James, 91% have heard of Serena Williams and 88% have heard of Tom Brady. Fame does not equal interest, of course, but compare the sports numbers to musicians Lady Gaga (98%), Alicia Keys (91%) and Bob Dylan (90%).
I can’t recall the last time I heard someone insist that music should not matter. Or that music is too “everywhere.” Sports should be treated so fairly.
Will the current sports shutdown lead to long-term changes in how we “do sports?” If yes, how?
It’s possible that a year or two from now these odd times will feel fuzzy — “Did it really happen?” — and the virus will have vaporized into nostalgia. We certainly won’t forget how COVID-19 altered our daily routines and sickened our loved ones, but once sports return it could be business as usual.
But I doubt it. Personally, I believe covering a game without fans diminishes the magnitude of the moment. Showing up on Saturdays at the ’Shoe without a crowd could feel like simply chronicling the talents of gifted athletes. I wonder how that will impact my writing going forward. How meaningful is football, basketball, hockey and soccer without an in-house community of many thousands cheering their team?
Professionally speaking, it will become a writer’s job to take readers inside the stadium and paint word pictures more vivid than at any time since before TV took over much of the storytelling. What is my role in restoring a sense of normalcy?
Who really knows? All we have to go on in these weird times is guesswork. As a fan, will you be comfortable attending Ohio State skull sessions? Has Zoom doomed our desire for personal connection, or will the face-to-face interaction between fan and athlete continue to create sparks of excitement?
Motivational speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones preached that “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
Decades later, the quote requires an addendum: the people you meet, the books you read and the effects of the coronavirus.
Sports turned sideways. Oh the thinks we never thought.