When sports almost died

©PhilSTAR Daily, Inc

Yesterday is but today’s memory, tomorrow is today’s dream. – Kahlil Gibran

This Easter, the struggle to have new life is more real and has struck home for so many of us. The significance is not lost on the sports audience. Just as we were gradually seeing sports rise again, we’ve locked down. It’s difficult to decide whether looking back or looking ahead would be more painful.

Towards the end of the first quarter of 2020, it became clear that sports would grind to a halt. Worldwide. Midstream, major professional and amateur sports competitions ceased. TV screens went blank. Sports pages shrank to token columns in broadsheets. Radio programs simply died. RadyoPilipinas2 (formerly Sports Radio) shifted programming. The Tokyo Olympics and the attendant qualifying tournaments for all its sports were postponed – perhaps cancelled – for the first time in peacetime since 1896. The grand, global trillion-dollar machinery of sport just… paused. For how long, nobody knew. This was quite a quandary for those of us who are sportswriters and broadcasters. In the age of exploding content, we suddenly had next to none. No remarkable superhuman performances. No records challenged or shattered. No rivalries that piqued intrigue. A gargantuan vacuum in the age of digital spectators. We had never faced anything like this total wipeout before. It was, in a word, apocalyptic.

Of course, there were urgent priorities, containing the threat, finding a cure, sending out financial aid. Once again, sports was placed at the end of the line, a luxury, even though it could have helped as billions of people were forced to become sedentary. The world was in adrenaline withdrawal, recycling highlight memories.

Those of us who covered sports literally had nothing to cover. What could we do? The easy recourse was to do features, dig up retired athletes from progressively lower tiers, do “what if” scenarios. But all of that was not the real thing, just ghosts from the past. We felt like someone had selectively nuked sports. More urgently, what would we get paid to do for a living? In 35 years as a professional, I had never encountered this. Working from home can never replace having a front-row seat. Eyewitnesses don’t watch from the other side of a screen. Many of my colleagues were downsized, fired, retired.

Then something remarkable happened. Colleagues were doing online training, supporting each other, discussing issues, at no charge. It became the literal free market exchange of ideas. If we were going to starve, then we were going to do it together, home with our children. Slowly, sports started to poke its head out the window. The NBA courageously created the bubble. Boxing and mixed martial arts found a way to come back to life. The Japanese government resolutely said the Olympics were happening. The loss of face would be more unacceptable.

So here we were, tentatively walking out, praying the fallout will no longer be lethal. The environment has healed, and so will we. We get a rare second chance, with perhaps more empathy and understanding. The pandemic showed that, as Jeff Goldblum told us in “Jurassic Park,” life will find a way. We will find a way to go forward, be grateful for how we used to do things, embrace new ways to doing them. It’s with a mix of melancholy and hope that we look to tomorrow. And if we see the past year as a stepping stone instead of a millstone, then it was not a loss at all, ECQ or not.