2020 has been a year unlike any other, and no one is more in tune with that fact than sports fans. After a long suspension of professional sports in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have all returned to play.
However, with the rise of racial tensions happening in the U.S., the spotlight has been turned even brighter on these leagues.
The NBA has certainly been under a microscope since restarting its season at Disney World. The league has written “Black Lives Matter” on its courts, allowed players to print messages of social justice on the back of their jerseys and has had almost every player kneel for the national anthem.
On Aug. 26, it took an even bigger step.
Amid racial unrest in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to forfeit Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic, which led to a suspension of the NBA playoffs for the time being.
While it does appear that the playoffs will carry on, the players have made their feelings known — they want to get involved with more social justice causes and be at the forefront of change.
Seeing LeBron James, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others battle for a championship is exciting, but the most memorable part of the NBA playoffs could have nothing to do with basketball.
With racial issues in mind, the NHL had also decided to postpone playoffs in both its Toronto and Edmonton hub cities in Canada, but playoffs restarted Saturday.
The NHL has been criticized in the past for not being very proactive when it comes to social issues. So, even this postponement raised eyebrows, considering it was a full day later than the NBA boycott.
But regardless of timing, the NHL is trying to show it is listening to its players’ concerns and that it wants to improve the league. Fans are watching to see if the NHL continues to step out of its hockey thought bubble during this postseason and beyond.
The MLB has also suspended regular season games. On Wednesday, four games were postponed. The next day, some teams chose to postpone their games while others decided to play.
More than 30 MLB games have already been rescheduled due to COVID-19. And as the only league of the three not currently confined to a bubble, it might have given an outline to the National Football League — whose season is set to kick off Sept. 10 — on how to and not to handle a traveling sports league.
But before all that comes along with the beginning of football season, the NFL commented on the nation’s biggest story. On Thursday, the NFL Players Association released a statement alongside the league itself.
“We will continue to not only use our collective platform to call out racism and injustice whenever and wherever it occurs in our country,” the statement reads, “but also fight together to eradicate it.”
The other top story is how these leagues have handled the COVID-19 pandemic. While the NBA and NHL have not had much of a problem dealing with an outbreak, the MLB season might be a sign of things to come for the NFL.
Between travel and the contact that occurs in a football game, it will be difficult to have zero positive cases throughout the season.
The NFL would be smart to handle its campaign like MLB has: if a team has positive cases, shut down practices and postpone games.
While that very well could lead to an unbalanced schedule or the postseason being delayed, these leagues have shown a commitment to completing their seasons.
There is a lot of uncertainty in sports, the country and the world right now. However, sports fans do have things to hold on to during these challenging times.
Sports are not normal right now. The fact these games are being played in empty arenas with announcers calling games from home is strange.
2020 should remind fans just how important they are to the professional sports machine. Whenever spectators are allowed back into arenas, the players will appreciate them like never before. Their cheering, their jeering and their tearing will always be an integral part of the sports experience.