Hello, hope you’re doing all right. The following post first appeared on the country’s finest college football newsletter, in case you might like to subscribe.
The whole point of sports is that there is no point.
When a pre-human first kicked a skull at another pre-human, who kicked it back, neither was worrying about the outcome of this activity becoming a sports-industrial complex that would feel like a pillar of global society. It was just fun to share a good skull-kick with a friend.
Sure, there are trophies to distribute, spreadsheets to fill out, megacorp budgets to make, and entire human livelihoods to support, and many of these things are good. These are all institutions we’ve built up around sports.
To work in sports, whether at a stadium or in media or as an athlete, is to look through a tiny window. Percentage-wise, almost nobody does this. For many thousands of years, the idea wasn’t to carry whole economies via sport. Even for pro athletes, “we get paid to play a kids’ game” is a common exclamation. (You’ll note college athletes never say this.)
When the NFL makes football feel like a matter of national security and presents its owners like civic fathers (not mothers), or the NBA models itself as the conduit of global culture, or college sports manages to rebrand doing the wrong thing for 140 years as doing the right thing, we’re seeing the apparatus piled on top of sports, not sports themselves.
No one can cancel sports. No one can suspend sports. The leagues and universities and governing bodies that have barnacled all over sports can argue themselves to synonymity with sports, but they’re just suits and logos.
March Madness being canceled is alarming, worrying for individuals whose incomes depend on it, and sad for everyone who’s earned the right to compete. It’s also the obvious right call.
Same with the NBA suspending its season after a Utah Jazz player might’ve pulled off the most extreme owning-of-the-libs ever, meaning maybe we can be done with defying scientific recommendations as a pastime for now.
(Along with everything else that happened on the day that was a decade, one of several such days these days.)
It is not just a flu. We need each other to take it seriously. On the off chance that your self-styled toughest/coolest uncle is right, and this is all just one big hysteria, the only cost would be this: having to listen to your uncle gloat about that time everyone besides him prepared to take care of each other. As if that’s not the thing your uncle does all day anyway.
The institutions we’ve lacquered over every element of our society have left many of us with hair-thin margins. One hour spent getting tested or voting or caring for children is also an hour spent falling short on rent.
”In times like these, we need sports more than ever,” is a thing that feels automatic to say here. But it’s true. So we adapt.
When a schedule changes, that’s weird shit. And you know what college football fans have been training our entire lives for? Weird shit.
The highest and lowest moments of our individual and shared experiences are ours. They happened. They’ll happen again. They’ll happen in different ways for a period of time. We built colossal institutions around them, which was often a good idea, even though it makes it feel like apocalypse when those big bodies have to take lumbering steps away from us.
The whole point of sports is that it’s time we can waste together.
As for right now, the 2013 Iron Bowl is among those things that have already happened. Nothing new needs to happen in order for you to feel every bit of it all over again from within a safe place. (Bama fans, here’s the alternate selection.)
In sports world, what this pandemic has cost us isn’t some sacred routine. An empty gym in Dayton or a (probably) postponed WrestleMania aren’t really worth the time spent freaking out in comment sections about everyone else allegedly freaking out.
It’s costing us chances to carry each other in the ways we’ve always known. We gather for many reasons, one of the oldest and most awesome of which is sports, and now we can’t. So we do what we’ve always done, when we’re at our best: we audible.