The potential victims here aren’t just ultrawealthy professional athletes and networks; more vulnerable people like part-time arena and stadium workers and minor league baseball players are also going to suffer. Some N.B.A. players have generously offered to provide financial relief for the league’s arena workers, but if the delays drag on indefinitely, $100,000 here or there from Zion Williamson or Kevin Love isn’t going to cover it.
A second problem is the disruption to the history of sports. What, for instance, happens to the University of Dayton men’s basketball team? The Dayton Flyers are not usually a basketball powerhouse, but thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime superstar named Obi Toppin, this year they had a chance to win a national championship. Next year Toppin will almost certainly be off to the N.B.A., and the Flyers will return to earth. Likewise, if the N.B.A. season doesn’t continue, what will be the effect on LeBron James’s legacy if he never wins a title with the Los Angeles Lakers after missing out on a great chance this year?
The history of sports feels off-kilter and messy now. And that history matters. That history is a large reason we keep watching.
Finally, I can’t help thinking there’s an existential threat here, too. This is one of the most active stretches of the sports year, with the N.C.A.A. Tournament, the N.B.A. and N.H.L. playoffs, baseball’s opening day and the Masters golf tournament. It’s a time of year that makes sports seem an essential part of our lives. My sons and I spent the first few days of the sports shutdown watching ESPN’s “SportsCenter” out of an odd mix of habit and denial. But eventually we gave up, went outside and played in the backyard a little bit. Then we came in and watched a movie and read a book together. It was a lovely day, well spent. Sure, we missed watching sports. But will we in a month? In — gasp — a year?
Sports have always felt irreplaceable in our lives. But I bet we will end up finding a way to replace them if we have to.
Of course, sports will eventually return, at some point. But I wonder if our bond with them will be weaker. Perhaps the illusion that we couldn’t live without them, that they were both eternal and vital, will be shattered. That would probably be healthy in the long term. But as with any loss, it would also be sad.
Twenty-twenty is a sports year I’ll never forget. Until, maybe, I do.
Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) is a contributing editor at New York magazine, a columnist for MLB.com and the founder of Deadspin.
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