Well, it’s finally here: the NFL draft. For sports fans, it feels like Christmas in April, right? I mean, what’s not to love: Waiting breathlessly for our favorite teams to pick the impact player that we know—we just know deep in our bones—will lead our beloved team to Super Bowl glory next year.
If, that is, there actually is a Super Bowl next year.
And there’s the rub, right?
We’re living in strange times. The coronavirus has upended just about every aspect of normal life as we know it. And that includes professional sports.
Which is why, perhaps, this year’s NFL draft seems more significant than normal. It’s virtually the only thing in the sporting world that’s going on as planned. (Well, mostly: The original plans for a Las Vegas JumboTron-bedazzled extravaganza have been scrapped, of course. Instead, I guess we can get excited about seeing what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement looks like. So there’s that.) I don’t know about you, but I seem to have taken all of my interest in sports and invested it in this one remaining modicum of normalcy. I can only hope my cherished Denver Broncos do the right thing tonight.
But that’s not really why I’m writing today. I want to reflect a bit on the bigger picture here, too.
I have to confess, first off, that’ I’m mostly a football guy. I watch the occasional NBA game (usually starting around playoff time) and, of course, March Madness. (What! My Hawkeyes got knocked out of the tourney by Northwest Nowheresville Industrial College … again!?) But springtime isn’t like the fall. No sirree. In the fall, weekends get scheduled around Broncos games. (“Sure, we can drive out and look at the aspens turning in the mountains … as long as we’re back by 2:25 for kickoff against the Raiders.”)
I know, though, that there are many for whom baseball and basketball are similarly important—not to mention NASCAR, golf and just about every other sport you can think of. So their sudden disappearance this spring has engendered something of an existential sporting crisis. What are we to do with no sports? Talk about post-apocalyptic! Someone should make a movie about that! (Or at least talk about it on a Plugged In Show podcast, which we’ll be doing next week. Check back and click here to listen to that or any of our other lively conversations.)
I’m exaggerating a bit, of course. But for many of us, watching sports and being a fan of a particular team (or teams) is more than just a passing entertainment pursuit. It’s a part of our identity, a part of the natural rhythm of the year. And so for it all to just up and disappear? What are we supposed to do with that?
At the risk of sounding perhaps a bit, um, preachy, I’m going to address that rhetorical question. At Plugged In, we often talk about how entertainment influences us—our choices, our values, the way we see the world. Now, we might tend to put sports in another entertainment category altogether, perhaps with good reason. But I wonder if we shouldn’t apply some of that some discernment to this passion in our lives, too.
Perhaps the disappearance of something that we invest so much energy into gives us a chance to step back and ponder some ticklish questions: What place does sports have in our lives? Is there a point at which our fandom and identification with a given team becomes obsessive or unhealthy? Might there be better ways to spend our time than glued to a television screen?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, of course. And it’s not my intention to lob those questions your way in an accusatory or legalistic way. But I do think that this unsettling season we’re in gives us a chance to grapple with those questions in a way that we’ve rarely—if ever—had before.
And that’s an opportunity worth taking advantage of in this weird, (mostly) sports-free moment.