The Turf Monster: A fan’s perspective on sports during a pandemic

Aiden Menchaca / The Tufts Daily

A pandemic approaches month seven. A contentious, divisive presidential election looms. The entire West Coast burns from wildfires brought on by climate change. And the San Francisco Giants ignore it all, jogging onto the grassy field of Oracle Park to play catch under an orange sky that resembles their own uniforms more than an actual sky. In true stubborn American fashion, the four major sports leagues push on into an uncertain fall. Much like watching your friend petition for a 25-semester-hour unit semester or go way in over their head with clubs and extracurriculars, we only watch with a dizzying blend of concern and optimism. For better or for worse, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL are playing in a pandemic.

We as fans needed this. No one can deny that. When sports shut down in the immediate wake of COVID-19 landing in America, we were all too frantic to really mourn that loss. But as weeks turned into months relegated to isolation and stay-at-home orders, the warmth and excitement of playoff basketball and summer baseball became desperately needed. Now the distraction and entertainment have returned in a way we could never have envisioned back during the rosy times of January and February 2020.

Baseball came first, and has likely been the messiest and most controversial. It was certainly cathartic to watch sports again, and the chaos of a 60-game season is a playful exercise. But I sorely missed the atmosphere that comes from packed stadiums. I see baseball as a chance to experience a slice of your city, where each stadium brings the best of your city’s weather, food, people and traditions. I would give anything to enjoy a crab sandwich on a bright sunny day at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Pair this absence with the underlying threads of labor disputes and constant positive COVID-19 results forcing teams into exhausting doubleheaders, and baseball has taken on a tainted nature. I ask you to look no further than the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees game on opening night, which saw hope in the form of Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch, clashing with a haunting omen in a rainstorm that cut it short.

The NBA is doing right what baseball is doing wrong. They’re deep into a riveting 2020 playoffs, and the basketball has been every bit as good as advertised. I see the social justice efforts of the league and the players as a positive step forward. I watched the boycotts and cheered for the players doing something truly impactful with their platform, laying a further groundwork for change and progress within the NBA and sports as a whole. And the bubble has worked wonders, proving that enough drive from a sports league can keep the show going regardless of the circumstances. I’m grabbing the popcorn for the semifinals, which both feature some very unlikely contenders that provide pure entertainment, night in and night out.

The final sport that really catches my attention is football, which seems to blend aspects from both the MLB and NBA reopenings. Safe and thorough COVID-19 precautions, without an actual bubble. Letting in a few fans, only to see them boo the NFL’s first attempt at a gesture toward the social justice movements. A mixed bag for my favorite American sport to watch. Many in the football audience are certainly not ready for today’s social climate, and I hope that the advocacy by players in the NBA will push them toward the light. Aside from this confused attitude for the league as a whole, I love the on-field product of the NFL, which has taken Week 1 as a chance to shake off some rust. I’m more worried about an outbreak in this league, but I expect the owners to push onward in a similar bullish manner to the MLB’s ownership.

Ultimately, we the fans have what we want. We have sports to watch, with all the escapism and drama we could ask for. It’s going to be a chaotic year, and I surely can’t expect the fall to continue as planned. But for the time being, I find a lot of comfort in knowing I can put on any number of games every night, and get away from the challenges of 2020 for a few hours.