Sports in 2020 — and Beyond

Competing (in the Flesh, Especially) is in our DNA

Howie Espenshied / 8.12.20

Spectators are sparse in number these days on our professional sports landscape, unless you count the camera people and the folks caring for the grass, lest it be trampled. Those blades of grass (or “shards of tire” in the NFL) are our first and only responding witnesses in the front row right now. Fans? Well, if you count A/C blown in indoor arenas, then yes, there are fans.

Fanatics? They can pay to support the team (not to be there in person though, mind you). Those fans can pay for a “likeness” of themselves or a loved one to be there in the stadium crowds, but they’re not buying beer or hot dogs, or saying much. Fear not though, faithful sports people! We still have crowd noise! Well, we don’t have noise from the people actually present in the crowd, but the noise from past games of all sorts has been archived carefully so that it can be now pumped in by speakers at these venues, then beamed to our flat screens at home so that we can hear all of the cheers and jeers! Yay! Sports!

As we sit in our newly christened “Family Fortresses” watching the PGA Championship this weekend, there’s an eerie reminder that there are no actual spectators. It’s especially eerie because, when there were actual spectators at PGA Major Golf Tournaments, we hardly noticed until the majestic Sunday strides up the 18th fairway, or when some poor soul eating a pimento sandwich got hit by a wayward Titleist. Even the quiet sports are quiet these days.

What, then, do we make of the spectacle of sports? The benign object of our voyeuristic affections, be it Little League, competitive cheer-leading, or our home town tarrying heroes who mix it up in various athletic skirmishes each week. Things will get back to normal for sure, but we are tasting what competition without onlookers is like. It’s weird.

However, for us, the average Janes and Joes who get our kicks when our teams win, it has been a time to redefine what we have come to deeply, deeply care about. On the plus side, at least the Tiger King reminded us that our sporting preferences could be worse. We could have a lot of very angry mouths to feed, and very precious few “employee limbs” left! Now that’s how we did sports back in the Coliseum!

We’ve lived without sports for a while now, and fans are clamoring for them to return. Life without sports has made quarantine life far more difficult. The experience has made me wonder… what of competition and “SPORTS!” in the New Heavens and the New Earth? Will we care if there’s no football or basketball to watch or play? Will we miss them if they’re not there? Judging from the last few months, the answer appears to be “yeah, definitely” but also kind of “meh.” Our groanings for a new world are not now as readily squelched and satiated by the “thrills of victory” and the “agonies of defeat”. The “ugh” that has always lurked under the surfaces of our souls is saying “Yo! Hey! Told ya!”.

Sports will always be about the fans. It is for us, and would not exist without us. Can we exist without our professional sports to watch? Of course we can. But that’s not a world that many of us would choose to live in. Competing (in the flesh, especially) is in our DNA, even if we’re only sitting across from someone with a Monopoly board between. There’s nothing inherently wrong/sinful about competitive play. It’s fun, and it puts us in tactile proximity with each other in a way that brings out the best and worst of us. In the New Heavens, it’s reasonable to assume that the worst of us won’t be a thing. That leaves the “best of us” going mano a mano: trash-talking without malice, winning with grace, and accepting defeat without bitterness. That sounds fun.

This should give us hope that there will be competition in heaven! With fans in the stands! That seems like something to at least spend headspace hoping for, while we miss seeing our favorite players in person. Better still, hope springs eternal for a New Creation, where fans jeer (politely) and cheer on the ones who play for our enjoyment — in the new Iowa and the New Heaven, now and forever, Amen.