Nevius: Silencing of sports speaks loudly

When the twin towers came down on 9/11, I was a suburban dad in the East Bay. Another father and I were coaching our 10-year-old daughters’ soccer team.

We had a practice scheduled for the day after the catastrophe. But people were just starting to process the horror of what happened. Youth soccer seemed kind of silly.

We talked about canceling. But we figured a couple of girls might show up. So we sent out an email saying we’re going to be at the field and if you want to drop by, we’ll see you there.

Everybody came. Not only all the players, but most of their parents. We talked about the attack, of course, but also about school and kids growing up and even … soccer.

That’s the role sports are supposed to play in a crisis. You could say they are a diversion, but they are also an invitation to normalcy, a reset of daily routines.

I’ve seen a few things written about this coronavirus pandemic ?that basically say, “This reminds us of how unimportant these foolish games are.”

I think it is the opposite. This move - to essentially stop playing all sports in this country and others - shows how significant this moment in time truly is.

This is going to be weird. And let’s state, right up at the top, that there are huge, life-and-death decisions and battles ahead. And in no way do sports compare with the global virus concerns.

But think about it. In the past, if the Giants, for some reason, didn’t play a game, we’d fill the sports pages with something else. Pick up some out-of-town games off the news wire.

There will be no wire. There will be no games. No basketball - no NBA, college, high school or pee-wee YMCA league. Ditto for baseball, football or hockey. Nothing at any level.

As you may have noticed, newspapers devote an entire daily section to sports. Now an entire industry is self-quarantined.

How about electronic media? ESPN has four channels - all sports, all the time. There are dedicated networks for the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and golf. Not to mention the TNTs and FS1s of the world who depend on daily doses of sports news.

At this point we’ve already run through the usual steps from Journalism 101. Coaches have been interviewed. Players are offering their thoughts. Disappointed fans have been located and quoted.

OK, that was Day One. Now what?

And let’s remember that this is not just an inconvenience. There is a very real, and very painful, financial cost. As my colleague Phil Barber pointed out the other day, the NCAA basketball tournament alone brings in nearly $1 BILLION to college sports.

Now imagine what sponsorship time costs during the NBA playoffs. Canceling those games - and there are a ton of them, several rounds, best-of-seven playoffs - would mean losses of bazillions. No wonder NBA commissioner Adam Silver is hedging, saying he will revisit the season suspension in a month.

And individually, teams are going to take a hit. The Giants, hoping to see a rebound in fan ticket sales after some disappointing seasons, have had to postpone their season opener. An iffy season can’t be helpful to ticket sales.

And even if baseball somehow finds a way to stage a shortened season, how many people are going to want to sit in close proximity to several thousand potential germ carriers?

Even the Warriors, who have fewer than 20 games left, are going to lose serious money. A recent story in the Athletic says if all the rest of the games are canceled, the franchise could be out $27 million. I know Golden State is one of the highest-valued franchises in sports, but $10 million here and $10 million there and you are starting to talk real money.

And, as others have correctly pointed out, there’s a whole economy of service workers who rely on events at sports arenas for income. I have met more than one usher at a Warriors game who has told me he or she also works baseball games. Put the two sports together and you almost have a full-time job.

In these days of narrow financial margins, missing even one paycheck could be critical. To miss most or all of a season would be catastrophic.

We’ve already seen teams and owners - Mark Cuban led the way - offering to pay the arena workers. The Cavaliers’ Kevin Love donated $100,000, which was a nice gesture.

But this will be one of the financial ripples of this crisis. We are already seeing airlines cutting back on flights and then, with fewer planes in the air, on employees. The same kind of measures would be likely in sports if this lasts even a month. Longer than that, essentially firing a big group of service workers all over the country would be unthinkable.

So I won’t argue with you if you say spending time watching someone try to hit a ball with a stick is kind of silly. And who cares who the Giants’ closer will be in a world where thousands have died from an extremely contagious virus?

I will agree to all of that.

Just don’t tell me sports aren’t important.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette