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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: Sports are Important

August 25, 2020

This week, the debate about whether or not sports writers want sports to return fired back up on Twitter, which is silly.

I don’t know a single sports writer that actually wants the upcoming sports seasons to be canceled, for “political reasons” (as I’ve seen some claim) or otherwise. I have seen plenty that worry it would be a bad idea to hold major sports seasons, but that’s not the same thing as actually rooting against sports happening.

Pointing out all the flaws in the plans for sports to return or highlighting the worrisome virus trends is not “rooting for the virus” or being negative for the sake of being negative. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and there’s still so much we don’t know. Right now, there is a lot more to talk about on the negative side of the ledger than the positive.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, pandemic aside this is a scary time to be in sports media. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for us; I only mention it to say that with the industry already on uncertain footing, things would get much, much worse for writers everywhere if college sports in particular don’t happen this season.

Sports have become a massive industry and there are so many people that rely on them for their livelihoods. Athletes, coaches, writers, stadium/arena workers, front office/athletic deportment workers, small business owners in college/pro towns and so many others rely on sports seasons for significant income and opportunities.

I’ve seen some write that “we don’t deserve sports” because of how our leadership has handled the pandemic and that “sports are a luxury.” In an ideal world, we’d be able to just put all sports on hold until we’re through the worst of this pandemic and everything is much safer. But as things stand, if we were to do that, many wouldn’t come out the other side. Leagues, teams and media outlets all over would fold and likely never come back.

It’s definitely true that pro and college sports leagues are trying to hold their seasons during the pandemic because of money, but it’s not just a greedy cash grab. It’s about the long-term viability and sustainability of their leagues. We’ve already seen how much financial trouble so many colleges are in because of the loss of revenue from the NCAA Tournament being cancelled. No college football this season would be a death-knell for some college programs and even some universities themselves.

Sports are no longer “just a game.” They’re an important part of modern life in this country and they provide opportunities for so many. A lot of the focus has been on professional and college athletes, but high school sports might be in an even more difficult position. There are some districts that appear to be strongly considering canceling all fall sports for their member schools.

The Omaha World-Herald’s Stu Pospisil recently reached out to the head of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the nation’s governing body for high school sports, to ask her opinion about relaxing transfer rules in the event that some schools are not able to participate in sports this year.

That is an incredibly tone-deaf statement and doesn’t show any kind of understanding about the place of sports and other activities within the educational system. School is supposed to be about helping students become more well-rounded individuals and preparing them for the next stage of life. For many, sports are an important part of accomplishing that goal.

There are so many kids who use sports as the motivation to take care of business in the classroom. The lessons athletes can learn through competition can be just as valuable as the ones they learn in the classroom as well. For many, sports provide an avenue towards continuing their education beyond high school that students might not otherwise be able to earn through their work in the classroom alone.

Locally, athletes like Keagan Johnson, Teddy Prochazka, Avante Dickerson, Micah Riley, Deshawn Woods and Devon Jackson will be just fine. The first three have already committed to colleges while the latter three have attracted scholarship offers from all over already. However, there are countless other student-athletes that use their senior seasons to springboard themselves into a college career. If their schools tell them they can’t play this year, what are they supposed to do?

Sports are important. A sports season — whatever form it may take — is worth fighting for at every level. That being said, the pandemic isn’t going away any time soon and while most of the athletes might not be at great risk of death, many people in their lives are and we still don’t know all that much about the long-term effects for those that do survive and recover. Whether or not sports happen will be a question of risk and reward (an equation that likely will have a different solution for the various groups involved), and it’s entirely possible that there’s no way in the current climate to safely hold sports (especially without some sort of a bubble set-up).

I do not envy the commissioners and administrators charged with determining the near future of sports in the midst of this pandemic. In 2020, there really is no easy path forward. I just hope that whatever happens, we can all come out of the other side and get back to enjoying the games we love, whenever that may be.

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