Coronavirus Disrupts Sports Industry

The month of March is an exciting one for Fenwick Athletics, as the winter sports teams finish their seasons and the spring sports get ready for action. But as the end of April brings school closures in Illinois, the spring sports at the high school and professional levels have been abruptly curbed by the spread of COVID-19.

This year, as the spring sports teams began practicing for their seasons and the winter sports teams made their state runs, the coronavirus began its spread throughout the world and the United States, causing history to be made in the sports world and beyond. On March 12, the IHSA announced its decision to cancel the boys’ basketball state tournament, the first in a series of moves that led to the cancellation of all spring sports throughout the state. The cancellation was a smart decision by the IHSA, as it was recently discovered that five people died from coronavirus after attending Indiana’s high school basketball state tournament. 

As significant and groundbreaking as they seem, the cancellations of high school sports across the state and country pale in comparison to the changes that professional sports nationwide and worldwide have experienced. In America, the NBA, NHL and MLB have suspended their seasons. The Boston Marathon and the Masters golf tournament have been rescheduled for later in the year. The NFL has changed their draft to a virtual format. The WNBA draft, which was held on April 17, was also a virtual event. The virtual drafts are held without any players, staff or media present, and representatives and employees for each team select their players from home. MLB officials have proposed a plan to conduct their season entirely in Arizona, with players being quarantined in hotels and being tested weekly for coronavirus. The games would be played without any fans in attendance. However, commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that no action will be taken to play games unless the safety of players is guaranteed. The NBA and NHL have not made any significant statements to introduce a plan for play to resume. 

In addition, The NCAA has cancelled March Madness, the extremely popular college basketball tournament that was set to occur in late March and early April. Host cities for games in the tournament have seen economic problems arise, as the revenue normally generated by the tournament is now nonexistent. The NCAA has also halted spring college athletics throughout the country. Senior athletes who were supposed to play in the spring have been given another year of eligibility by the NCAA, allowing them to play next season. 

Sports writers and networks are now scrambling to fill newspapers and airtime, as a complete stoppage of all sports was completely unprecedented. Networks like ESPN have had to cancel their daily shows and attempt to give viewers as much content as possible. In the weeks since sports were cancelled, ESPN has aired live-streams of professional athletes playing NBA 2K and Madden (basketball and football video games) against each other, reruns of classic sports games and 30 For 30 documentaries, and a live HORSE competition featuring current and former athletes. Amid pressures from many Americans and celebrities such as NBA superstar Lebron James, ESPN has also pushed forward the release of the highly anticipated documentary The Last Dance, which chronicles the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-1998 NBA championship team. The ten-part documentary was originally scheduled to air in June 2020. The new release date is April 19, with two episodes scheduled for release each week until mid-May. Sports pages in newspapers have been largely reduced, and the Chicago Tribune has, on some days, combined the sports and business sections due to the lack of content. 

On a worldwide stage, sports across Europe and Asia have experienced similar cancellations to those that have taken place in the United States. Spanish soccer league La Liga has proposed a plan to restart play, but it is unlikely it will be carried out. Baseball in Japan and other countries has been postponed. Fortunately, as of April 19, baseball games in South Korea are planned to continue—albeit without fans. The most significant and unfortunate of all changes is the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games, which were to be held in Tokyo, Japan. They are now scheduled for summer 2021. For some Olympic athletes, the window of opportunity for them to compete has either disappeared or has been reduced. However, athletes are determined to continue their training until the new date. 

As the days without sports continue to pass by, we are given an opportunity to realize how much we take sports for granted, and we are realizing an unexpected chance to appreciate the hard work of athletes, media workers, team officials and staff, and everyone who keeps the sports world moving each day.