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What It Means To Be A Sports Fan During The COVID-19 Outbreak


And it's time for sports. Well, actually, it's not - right? - because there are no sports to follow at the moment. And sadly, this could last a while. Commentator Mike Pesca has been thinking about what all this means for us, the fans.

MIKE PESCA: There is a phantom limb quality to our current state of sportslessness. I find myself poised to turn on sports talk radio or turn to the sports pages or click to see how my rotisserie basketball team is doing. Then I suddenly remember they're not there. Oh. Of course there's still real estate to occupy and content to generate. ESPN's "SportsCenter" is like a two-thirds shuttered mall that has long lost its anchor tenant. The back pages of the tabloids are still the sports pages, but they're really the lack of sports pages. Here are three consecutive New York Daily News back page headlines - "Now What?", "Waiting Game," "No Sports." Concise.

For about four days, sports radio was treating Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert as if he were Typhoid Mary, drawing on all the reserves of bombast and indignation that would normally be spread out among a week's worth of dumb coaching decisions, stupid trades and bad referee calls.

Our current sportslessness strikes in some ways that were foreseeable. As a fan, you knew you'd normally be watching the NCAA men's basketball tournament tip off about now. You knew there'd be a shocking result, a captivating character would emerge - maybe a player, maybe a coach, maybe a team nun. You'd quickly learn about a school that you thought was in one state that was in some different state taking down a powerhouse program. But mentally knowing that a surprise is bound to happen and actually experiencing the surprise activates two different bodily systems. It's as different as picking a restaurant and tasting a meal.

There's no equivalent for what sports do - how they appeal across demographics, ages, language, class and cultures. Sports help us define our community. Who outside of Chicago would know or care about North Side versus South Side if not for the Cubs and White Sox? A Wisconsinite is just someone from Wisconsin. A cheesehead, that tells you something far more than that clinical description. Sports are also a form of community. A nation is a body of people who are sufficiently conscious of their unity. So yes, Cherokee Nation and the nation of the United States but also Steeler Nation, Raider Nation, Red Sox Nation. Fans watch the games and wear the colors and go to the arenas and provide the roar of the crowd. Only now, there can't be any crowds. Sports is a force that brings us together, but togetherness is now forbidden.

In our current state of sportslessness, everyone's a little like a dog that's been bred for a purpose who's not allowed to perform that task. At first, I felt a little guilty about missing sports, given the gravity of all that's happening or may still happen in our world. But I realized sports aren't a frivolous form of entertainment. They're a necessary part of - an embodiment of - community and connection. And it's reasonable to yearn for that right now.

GREENE: And we are yearning with you, Mike. That was commentator Mike Pesca. He is host of Slate's daily podcast "The Gist."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.