You see the intertwining of sports and history clearly within our society.
In the midst of the Cold War, defeating the Soviet Union meant a lot more to the United States hockey team than a chance at gold in the 1980 Olympics. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened public facilities to all races, but it was Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947 that laid the groundwork for desegregation. And with everything Billie Jean King did to help get Title IX passed, her defeating Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match perhaps is the most nateble part of her legacy with the Women’s Rights Movement.
And then there was 2020, the year the entire country shut down in the immediate aftermath of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19.
Once the NBA shut everything down March 11, it felt like the rest of the world soon followed. When the people most needed the escape, inspiration and sense of belonging that comes with being a sports fan, the days without live games felt the darkest.
But slowly, and in unconventional ways, play resumed. And with that, so did some sense of normalcy we all so desperately craved, as sports helped us get through 2020.
When we were dying of boredom, sports coming back gave us something to be excited about and feel like we’re part of a community
For a while, it felt like listening out for the occasional sports-related clue on Jeopardy! was the closest thing we were going to get to a live-action game every night.
So during the early days of the coronavirus quarantines, it’s no surprise people sat down to watch “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary series about Michael Jordan, every week when it aired. The network even moved up its broadcasting date and everything to give viewers something to look forward to every week. And along those lines, events like a golf tournament between Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were thrown together for our entertainment.
The success of those events showed that one of the best parts about watching sports in the modern social media era is reacting online in real time with the rest of the audience. It’s that sense of community you feel rooting for your favorite team or being a fan of a sport in general that so many missed. Along with, of course, the roller coaster of emotions that comes along with sports betting.
Once live games slowly started to come back, you could see how much people missed that sense of belonging.
Sports reminded us that our voice matters, and the best way to change the world is to start in your hometown.
Through 2020, the overwhelming urge to help one another was prevalent from the start. Especially with athletes and coaches donating their time and money to help those in their communities without work or who were directly impacted by the pandemic in other ways.
You had instances of Red Sox legend David Ortiz surprising healthcare workers on the front lines, New England Patriots’ linebacker Brandon Copeland providing giftcards to underprivileged families before the holidays, and Devin and Jason McCourty donating $90 thousand worth of Chromebooks for school children to use for virtual learning.
And when tensions were running high and people around the country felt civil unrest in wake of the social justice protests sweeping the nation, Celtics star Jaylen Brown drove hours from Boston to his native Atlanta to lead a peaceful demonstration and try to impact change.
There is nothing more important than family.
Even before the global pandemic, one of the first lessons learned was there’s nothing better than time spent with family — whether they’re biological or were found along the way.
Unfortunately, that was learned in tragedy, as the sports world collectively mourned the passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and others in a helicopter crash in January.
And as the virus relentlessly took lives across the nation, including Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl Anthony Towns’ mother and six other members of his family, we continued to see first-hand how fragile life is, and how important it is to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.
One major blessing during this time was how many people got to spend so much extra time with their loved ones while working from home, but athletes sacrificed being with theirs to play in bubbles as their respective leagues found a way to safely return. They did that for us.
As sports fans, we really didn’t know what we had until it was taken away from us, and nothing felt better than listening to soccer broadcasters call a game on a Saturday morning as the German Bundesliga became the first sport to return to play, or the first time any of the Boston teams resumed action.
And in 2020 more than ever, those who claim not to like sports were pitied by the rest of us more than ever, because look at the joy they managed to bring us in a year that brought down so many.