This is the moment every athlete fears. The stadium lights shut off, there are no shots to take, and the roar of the crowd fades away. The music of the game no longer plays. For athletes, this is the moment when retirement hits. Due to an unexpected turn of events – an opponent so overwhelming even against our best defenses – that deafening silence is now our burden to bear as sports fans.
The events of Wednesday night and Thursday left the sports world reeling. The major leagues – NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS – have suspended their seasons for the foreseeable future. After nearly every major conference canceled their end-of-season basketball tournaments, the NCAA pulled the plug on March Madness, as well. We can only wait until significant measures are taken to keep the novel coronavirus from spreading like wildfire at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But as athletes across the country – and around the world – hang up their sneakers, cleats, skates, and dreams for athletic glory this spring, we, the fans, are left with one simple yet overwhelming question: what now?
It was once said that the life of a fan is a constant battle between hate and love. Season after season, regardless of city, team, or sport, we adore and curse the figures who take the court or step onto the field. But regardless of where the tides of our adoration flow at any given point in time, one simple dichotomy remains true: we live and die for our sports. We can’t get enough. It’s the reason we check the box scores every morning for teams that haven’t sniffed first-place since the first day of the season. It’s the rationale for why we watch the same highlights of our favorite players over and over, even years after they’ve finally stepped into retirement. And it’s the sole explanation for why we cry salty tears – both happy and sad – for people we’ve most likely never met as their triumphs and failures play out on screen.
But why do we care so much? Why do sports affect us the way that they do? For some, it’s the bond we share with loved ones and friends, created by cheering for the same team year in and year out. For others, it’s the thought of what could have been, the idea that if not for some circumstances or events, we too could have achieved what we see on TV night after night. Perhaps, for most of us, it’s simply the notion that, in a way, the stories of our lives are actually what play out in each broadcast. Sports fulfill our need to feel like we’re a part of something – as fans, we’re members of a group of people who like the same things, share the same mission, and ultimately all want to be champions. In a way, by doing our part to support our teams we feel as if we’re actually contributing to the outcomes that occur on the playing field. The players’ victories are our victories; their defeats are our defeats. And just as life goes on after both our highest and lowest moments, we are aided on our journey by the knowledge that so too comes a new season for our favorite teams.
The hiatus from sports will not be easy for any of us. We’re accustomed to round-the-clock coverage of trade demands, lineup changes, and news of the latest athlete to throw out his or her back while sneezing. But perhaps this break in the action – a commercial break, if you will – is actually a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on our favorite sports memories and rehash our favorite stories. In other words, it gives us an opportunity to do the exact same thing we always do. We just won’t have to talk over a game in the background.