Before 2020, the news and sports were considered separate. The news is real life. The economy, jobs, current events, and, of course, politics. Sports was the diversion, the escape, the comfortable distraction for the things that truly mattered. Papers and newscasts would separate the news section and the sports section. Unless it was a major event, rare would they crossover.
That was until this year. Or, if you want to be more specific, March 11. That was when Oklahoma Thunder head medical staffer Donnie Strack ran onto the basketball court of the Utah Jazz vas Oklahoma Thunder game and say don’t play. And we learned Ruby Goebert had COVID19.
Slowly but surely, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, CFL, tennis, racing, and golf put everything on pause. This spilled into the lower levels. Junior hockey paused. USports paused.
Sports stopped. Not because of a strike, or a lockout. But, ]something that hasn’t happened in 100 years. A global pandemic.
Sports fans sat. And waited, And waited. We got by reliving some of our favorite sports moments, The 2011 Canuck Stanley Cup run. The 1994 Canuck run. It served us for a time. But, we missed sports.
However, on May 25, three words were uttered that pushed sports into the news.
“I Can’t Breathe.”
Those were the final words of George Floyd. Floyd died after a police officer pressed his neck for close to 10 minutes. For many of us, it shook us to our very core. It was a recognition that something was wrong. We all wanted to do something. In the midst of a pandemic, there were, and still are, protests. Sacrificing times of social distancing to lend their voice. This included professional athletes. NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, tennis, and golf. Even the normally politically quiet NHL spoke out.Players like Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Matt Dumba, and Evander Kane were standing, speaking, educating.
While many were supportive, there were voices saying something different.
“Stick to sports”
“Shut up and play”
The demand of keeping sports in sports.
When sports returned, they, like a lot of us, know there needs to be a change. We saw steps on the need for change. Matt Dumba gave a powerful speech when the NHL returned.
For many, it resonated. From many perspectives, the words rang true. It was their desire. Yet, for some, these words came out.
“Stick to sports.”
“Shut up and play.”
Then, August 23. Jacob Blake is shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Not once. Not twice. Seven times. It sounded like a collective and loud “ENOUGH” !. The Milwaukee Bucks led a walkout of their NBA playoff game. This led to the rest of the NBA doing the same.was slowly followed by MLB and the NHL doing the same.
Again, many understood. But, those voices again.
“Stick to sports”
“Shut up and play”
This weekend, the NFL returned. With some places with fans, some without. They also had an expression of unity. This was met with some booing. And while there are deeper reasons for the opposition, the premise being held is that they don’t want sports to be political. They value the comfort of the escape. They want the distraction.
Yet, they forget that sports have always had a voice in societal change. It has always left a mark in our world. Here are some examples.
-Jesse Owens. Winning the Gold in 100, 200, 4X 100, and Long Jump in 1936 in Berlin. As Adolf Hitler is watching.
-Jackie Robinson. The first African American player to play Major League Baseball.
-Muhammad Ali. Converting to Islam, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He also refused to go to the military.
Even closer to home, Terry Fox. His run on led across Canada raised money and awareness for cancer and inspired Canadians.
The reality is while sports can be an escape, more often than not, sports has been a catalyst for change. Some of the most influential and admired voices of our time are professional athletes. Athletes who have overcome their own systemic oppression and odds to get where they are today. Athletes who have seen fellow athletes, friends, and even family members struggle through this oppression that held them back.
Not only in the news and sports, for too long, our culture has also lived in a form of separation. The haves and the have nots have been divided. And, to use a sports term, the playing field isn’t level. On more than one level. Whether it be about racial injustice, social injustice, or financial injustice, there is a growing understanding that what we are doing is not working. The privilege is real. It’s not something we can escape from. It’s not something we can drink a beer to get away from. It’s not something a weekend nap can take away. This is something we all need to face and get on the field to help.
We may have lost our escape and it hurts. But in the long run, the wins will feel great.