A Look Back on Sports playing through Covid-19


The MLB started using cardboard cutouts in lieu of absent fans during the 2020 season.

The MLB started using cardboard cutouts in lue of absent fans during the 2020 season.

Out of all the death and chaos caused by Covid-19, the delay of many sports leagues
was certainly not the most tragic loss. However, the first few months people spent alone in quarantine felt incomplete without the usual comfort of sports. At times it seemed unlikely, but eventually, American sports got back on their feet and were somehow able to deliver great seasons during a trying time.

The first major blow to the sports world was when March Madness was canceled shortly after the pandemic began spreading rapidly in the United States. The MLB came next, delaying their opening day until the middle of the summer, with the NBA also halting their season, making the decision while games were being played and they didn’t resume play until the end of July.

Out of all the pro sports leagues, the NBA must be commended for their job of maintaining play during a global pandemic. Despite being a contact sport that is played indoors, the league was able to minimize the spread by playing in “The Bubble” — a sealed-off zone without fans that contained a set of courts and venues set up at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Outside of a few violations here and there, the bubble was a massive success. The league finished off its regular season, then hosted the playoffs which ended with the Los Angeles Lakers winning their 17th championship.

Similar to the NBA, the MLB used a bubble-esque approach for their playoffs, but the road there was not nearly as smooth. As soon as the season began, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were hit with major outbreaks, leading to fears over a possible cancellation. The pandemic also forced the league to shrink the schedule down to only 60 games, and even then many teams still didn’t reach that mark. The altered season also saw the most unique playoffs of any MLB season ever, as the playoff roster expanded to 16 teams as opposed to the usual 10, and each series starting in the divisional round was played at a neutral site with limited fan attendance. Even at the season’s end, the league still faced covid issues as the Los Angeles Dodgers long-awaited world series celebration was overshadowed by Justin Turner, veteran third basemen, being pulled from game 6 due to covid-contact tracing, only to reappear during the trophy ceremony. Still, this shortened season saw great variety, with many new teams getting a shot at the postseason, and it can only be considered a success for the MLB given the dire situation during the first few weeks of re-starting.

Out of all the big three sports leagues, the NFL was the only one to start on time. Given their season ended just before the pandemic hit America, their timing was luck but even then offseason training camps and team practices were extremely limited and often off limits. The NFL was also different in that they allowed the most fans of any sports league during this time. The NBA never had a fan in a stadium, the MLB allowed a small amount during the late rounds of the playoffs, but the NFL came out the gate with moderate attendance, and at the end of the year, 25,000 people came to see the Super Bowl, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs.

The tail end of the NFL season represented the benchmark for sports going into 2021, as vaccination efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic have allowed many leagues to start re-opening stadiums to fans. The Texas Rangers started the season reaching full capacity at their new stadium, and Madison Square Garden hosted the largest indoor gathering in New York since the pandemic started when the Knicks played the Atlanta Hawks in round one of the NBA playoffs.

While having sports return in some form was a dim light through the gloom of 2020, it would be naive to believe the product presented was close to the levels of excitement and thrill that was seen before Covid-19. Still, it provided a gateway away from the harsh year, and with fans returning to stadiums in 2021, it seems that sports are returning to normal, to everyone’s delight.