Fuck this. I’ll be petty.
I have walled off the deep mourning I feel in the present catastrophe, so I’m going to flip out about something else.
I don’t watch television as a habit. I was raised on a strict allowance of screen time, until I was old enough for my mother to release me to someone who was paid to keep me safe: the Coach. From middle school into college, I played eight different organized sports, three of them for more than four years. In my formative years, sports was hardwired into my brain. I can still throw a fastball, sidekick you in the face, and quickly heat up a jump shot. By the time I found out I was an adult and could watch television for pleasure, I watched sports.
I love sports. I love playing sports. I love explaining sports. I love debating sports. I like yelling about sports, but I really love it when shy, attractive women laugh at me for yelling about sports. I absolutely feed on the opinion that I’m dumber than someone else because I’m a sports fanatic.
We just lost a whole spring, locked in the fucking house. I have neither shot a basketball nor seen anyone shoot a basketball this spring. I’ve seen no 6 year olds look absolutely ridiculous in a baseball uniform. There are no pale white guys chasing frisbees (do they know dogs do that?) I live a mile away from a driving range and I haven’t hit a single golf ball.
Manchester City was going to chase down Liverpool, executing the most electrifying comeback in soccer history. Tiger Woods was going to win his 7th Masters, ending the argument over the best golfer to ever live. Lebron James was on a campaign to take over Los Angeles and the basketball world. My stepfather and I were going to sit behind first base, discuss dominant Nationals pitching, and hammer some Shake Shack. I was looking forward to the hottest part of summer, when my hair would stand up on my neck, maybe my mom would stop for a couple of hours, and we would cheer when the Olympic Flame was lit.
We were out of games to watch. I saw Kobe win (RIP), I saw Lebron win, I saw the Saints’ first game back at the Superdome. I watched professionals play video games on tv, then we hit the end of the tape library. I found myself flipping through cornhole on national television. I fell asleep to a spelling bee marathon, admiring how all those people were allowed to stand so close together.
ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, has a plan for the drought in sportscasting. It’s called KBO: the Korean Baseball Organization. The country’s success in containing COVID allowed it to broadcast some games. They air at 5am EST.
Don’t wanna stay up that late? Where do you have to go on Monday? You don’t know any players? There are a bunch of Americans pitching. ESPN did an organization-wide examination of the curious phenomenon of the Korean batflip.
In a different world, there are no buyers for what they were selling. But due to the circumstance, everyone was excited for the first time in 60 days. We were going to see LIVE sports.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth it.
I drank coffee late at night to tune in to the most complicated Zoom meeting in the world. Two announcers, one in New York, one in Oregon, watched a TV signal piped in from a Korean station. It was wildly problematic from the jump.
I was watching other people watch a baseball game. One of the announcers was a woman; I mention that because it was a signal that the game wasn’t taken too seriously- the patriarchal baseball illuminati would never have allowed it otherwise. They knew little to nothing about the players. They were bringing players into the Zoom meeting to talk about playing baseball in Korea. I did learn a lot about Korean food, doing laundry in Korea, so on and so forth. It was like watching a talk show about Korean baseball with a game on in the background. I was a trooper for a week: the games were not exciting, the announcing became infuriating, and there were no crowds in the stands, so I quit.
The crowd and the sporting event are inextricably linked. From the smattering of claps at the church league softball game to the deafening roar of the Superdome: to lose yourself in the sound, on the field, in the stands, at the bar, is essential. The communal celebration and the shared despair both communicate that we’re all in this together. Watching Korean baseball (and now, German soccer matches) played to empty stands creates a bubble of surrealness. Voices inaudible, the game sounds like people yelling at each other down a very long hallway. The distance between the players and the viewer is magnified, and I realize that I’m watching the game by myself. It’s maddening, and then I’m just sad.
My father used to take me to the Bullets game when I spent the weekends with him. The team was reliably terrible. But there was a promotion during the game that was genius: if the Bullets scored 90 points, the next day you could get a pizza for 99 cents. Our team was getting blown out by twenty five, with 3 minutes to go, and with the team sitting on 79 points you would hear Little Caesar piped over the speakers.“Pizza! Pizza!”
The crowd would go wild. Five thousand people were now fully invested. Every time we scored a basket we’d all yell “Pizza! Pizza!” One night, after the team lost, we left after missing the pizza by two points. I was walking out of the arena and a grown man was beside me. He patted me on the head, and with a dejected look he said, “No pizza.”
As the legendary Scott Van Pelt puts it: “I believe in sports, because in sports I believe that God answers prayers. And sometimes the answer is NO.”
I walk past my neighborhood basketball court every couple of days. The lock stays up on the fence, and I hear the echo of basketballs bouncing. There’s a kid who was going to lose all summer to an older rival just to become a superstar in the fall. There’s someone out there who wants one more catch with their dad.
We are losing something here. We’re losing heroes and villains. We’re losing celebration and dejection, personally and vicariously. We’re losing the teams that the whole city roots for, a conversation that all of us can try to have. We’re losing the chance to lose the chance to win free pizza.