Columnists, Coronavirus, Sports

7th Inning Stretch: Some good news when we need it most

The world seems pretty grim right now. The coronavirus pandemic continues to plague all corners of the globe, and there is no apparent end in sight. The word “unprecedented” no longer adequately sums up the situation. 

We could all use a dose of positive news to lift our spirits. Enter John Krasinski and his aptly-named weekly YouTube show, “Some Good News.” In his third episode, which came out this week, Krasinski teams up with his hometown Boston Red Sox to deliver some heartwarmingly good news to those who needed it most.

Krasinski focuses on sports for much of the episode, showcasing a series of crowdsourced videos from social media, even enlisting legendary broadcaster Joe Buck for some commentary. But the best surprises come toward the end.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tweeted a photo of a medical worker in front of a model Green Monster, with the message, “Even though we miss @redsox baseball and the excitement down the street at Fenway, @bidmchealth’s Red Sox Nation is still going strong!”

After showing the tweet, Krasinski video chatted with the COVID-19 unit from BIDMC, or as the Newton native called them, his “hometown healthcare heroes.” That’s when the episode turns from good to great.

First, a surprise virtual visit from Red Sox great David Ortiz. Then the announcement of four lifetime Red Sox tickets for the staff at BIDMC. Then a trip to Fenway on “the most sanitized Duck Boat in America.” Then a video message from Red Sox players, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. Then throwing out the first pitch of the 2020 season from the mound.

The good news rained down like Big Papi walk-offs. 

The whole episode is a must-watch. Krasinski ends the video with one more surprise: AT&T agreed to cover the cellphone bill of every nurse and doctor in America for three months.

Beyond Krasinski’s charm and the pure joy of the healthcare workers, the episode got me thinking about the role sports plays in our lives.

With no games to watch, fans are left with live-streamed video game tournaments and poorly-executed HORSE competitions. I even watched ESPN’s rerun of the 2008 National Spelling Bee the other day. Desperate times, indeed.

But in a time with endless health, political and economic challenges and concerns, why do we continue to turn to sports for solace? With some curiosity and plenty of time on my hands, I decided to do some research on the psychology of sports fandom.

There are several explanations for the irrational love and connection many fans feel with their teams. When teams win or lose, people’s moods can be influenced for extended periods of time. Many fans even refer to their teams in the first person. There are psychological underpinnings for all of this. 

But in my very amateur research, I stumbled upon one idea that felt particularly relevant for us today: the Terror Management Theory.

Proposed by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski, the theory suggests that when people are especially aware of their mortality, the fear of death leads us to seek cultural or symbolic systems that will outlive us. In other words, at times when anxiety about death is high, we look for connection to something greater than ourselves.

I’m no social psychologist, but this theory seems to perfectly explain sports fandom during a pandemic. 

It also underscores why videos like Krasinski’s are so meaningful to us. In the midst of a global pandemic, a time where mortality and death are painfully apparent, people are searching for meaning. Sports is one of the most powerful symbolic cultural systems humans have. 

Sure, I’d love to watch some live sports right now as a form of entertainment and distraction. But what we are missing the most is the fundamental human need to connect to something bigger than ourselves –– to rally around a community of people who share in this psychologically sound yet irrational obsession. 

Maybe this rabbit hole was merely my way of understanding why this week’s episode of “Some Good News” impacted me so much. Or why I care about which players are winning the “MLB The Show” tournament.

In a time with unfathomable uncertainty and suffering, we are longing for that primordial and unconscious feeling of connection and belonging that sports offers. So, while we wait what could be months for our beloved teams to return, Krasinski demonstrates that we can continue to find some good news in the pure kindness of those in the sports world.

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