The Turf Monster: A heartbreaking, powerful silence

As a sportswriter, college student and resident of the United States and the world, all I can say is: wow. You’ve likely read a thousand times how chaotic and unprecedented these times are. I’m not here to add any sort of exclamation mark to that. I’m here to deliver a sportswriter’s perspective, and to take this unique opportunity to share some of my emotions with the world.  

As you may have guessed, this is not going to be a traditional entry into the Turf Monster canon. I promise, I will get to all the NFL free agency action in due time. I want this column to provide a sense of normalcy in these abnormal times, and I fully intend to return to that with my next piece. 

In the meantime, if you want to scratch that sports itch, many of my fellow writers at the Daily have written brilliant pieces on Tom Brady’s dramatic move to Tampa Bay. Read them throughout the sports section online. For now, however, today’s piece is going to serve as a meditation on the place sports hold in our lives, illuminated suddenly by the most surprising of events: a global pandemic.

The changes that have taken hold of our lives have been rolled out in a manner equal parts sudden and steady. First, we were washing our hands more. Then, speculation about the state of classes after spring break. Then, in one swift email, we were packing up and hunkering down for the semester. Lost in the ensuing days of chaos was a Wednesday evening headline. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz center, had tested positive for coronavirus. The NBA suspended its season immediately. 

Other leagues would follow in the coming days, until the sports world was draped in firm and total silence. Each day, a new league fell victim. MLB pushes back opening day. NHL suspends season indefinitely. Masters tournament postponed. In the chaos of moving across the country from Tufts to the Bay Area, bidding farewell to my friends and sorting out my online classes, this news hit me numb and indifferent. 

It wasn’t until that first moment when I flopped onto the couch and grabbed the remote that I realized something I had never been without was suddenly gone, for an uncomfortably uncertain amount of time.

I watch primetime basketball to unwind after an evening homework session. I put on baseball to pass the time during those lazy Saturday afternoons. I tune into playoff hockey to briefly escape the stress of finals. Football practically molds my Sunday routine. Sports, while never being central to my day in the way they are to athletes and coaches, have always been there for me and millions of fans. They are a consistent spectacle of incredible production, showmanship and talent put together by countless devoted and passionate people. They are a soap opera, a months-long drama with unpredictable twists and turns. They are a never-ending contribution to a long and epic history. 

The sheer consistency of sports and their presence pushes them to the background. Maybe you glance at a soundless game on some TV in a restaurant between conversation. Maybe you mention them offhandedly with a friend while you walk to class. Maybe you get texted articles, highlights and tweets from someone you know. However they present themselves, sports are always around, filling in the dull blank spaces in the fabric of our daily lives. When that’s taken away, it feels like the world has been blanketed in a gloomy, serious standstill. The sports machine has been chugging along for as long as we can remember, and for it to stop is a signal that we are experiencing something unprecedented in our world.

To say a void now exists in my life would be overly dramatic. There’s other entertainment out there, and the seriousness of today’s world demands we prioritize health and safety above all else. But this sudden absence has made me appreciate the consistent normalcy sports present me with. No matter what’s going on, I can always tune into this amazing spectacle of production, talent and entertainment. I can follow my favorite athletes and figures as they navigate this amazing, ongoing soap opera, and experience pure escapist entertainment. 

While the absence of sports is a sad reminder of the times we live in now, I see an opportunity for hope with that sadness. No matter how rough the news gets, no matter how crazy sheltering-in-place might make me feel, I know that there will be a day that I can turn on basketball, baseball, hockey or anything else once more. It will be a reminder that we can and will beat this pandemic. It will be the first of many beautiful indicators that the world is returning to a place of sanity, one that I all too often took for granted.


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