By Orrin Farries
The summer of isolation is near over, and the machine chugs on with the rattle of a lawn-mower struggling to turn over. While the beginning of the pandemic shot an icy spike through the heart of professional sports entertainment, the summer was not lost for sport. I will, in as few words as possible, sum up the summer of socially spaced sports.
The NBA had a longer off-season than usual, cancelling play on March 12 and resuming on the 31 of July. Resuming the 2019-2020 season in a “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando, the league has been able to persevere in the face of a public health crisis, and the restart has provided many nights of scintillating, unpredictable action.
The NBA partook in a boycott of games on August 26 to 28 in the wake of the extrajudicial weaponized assault on Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In a player’s association meeting, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers voted to boycott the rest of the season. They ultimately agreed to resume play following the enactment of three social justice commitments by the NBA and it’s player’s association: to form a social justice coalition with NBA players, officials, and local state governors, to utilize NBA arenas as voting stations during the election year and to produce advertisements during NBA playoffs that encourage civic engagement.
In Canadian basketball news, the Edmonton Stingers captured their first CEBL title in a summer tournament schedule that saw them run the table and go undefeated. Stingers forward Jordan Baker, a former UofA Golden Bear, was named CEBL Canadian of the year, and first-team All CEBL. Point guard Xavier Moon was named Finals MVP, leading the league in assists and coming second in scoring across the league.
The NHL resumed play in their own bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. The Oilers smacked around the Calgary Flames in exhibition play, then proceeded to flame out against the Chicago Blackhawks in the play-in round of the NHL restart.
In the wake of the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd in St. Paul, Minnesota, BIPOC NHL players established the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), which is headed by Akim Aliu, Evander Kane, as well as other notable players Matt Dumba, Trevor Daley, Anthony Duclair, Nazem Kadri, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, and Joel Ward. Only after playing through the August 26 games did the NHL and the HDA agree to postpone games on August 27 and 28 to allow the players time for reflection.
Edmonton’s own Alphonso Davies became the first Canadian soccer player to be part of a winning UEFA Champion’s League team as his Bayern Münich squad demolished Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the semi-finals and Neymar Jr.’s Paris St. Germain team in the final to capture football’s second (?) biggest prize.
The NFL are doubling down on their American identity towards the pandemic and the social climate of its host cities right now. NFL teams have shown very little initiative in preparing to play games without fans in attendance, and players across the league are electing to sit-out the upcoming season. In what is to be a tumultuous public battle against the deep-seated perceptions about the NFL’s idiocy, the league’s plan at the time of publishing is a combination of ‘wait and see’, and ‘play first, ask questions later’.
The UFC were the first* to capitalize on the massive crater in the sports entertainment world during the pandemic. President Dana White bought property on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, and has been making strides towards making the UFC a completely self-sufficient entity that can operate as they please with their own stringent public health guidelines to ensure they can continue to make fights happen. God bless that bald angry man.
The ‘Big Show’ for baseball has been a gong show, electing not to play in a bubble as the other major sports, NHL and NBA have done, and have thus fallen victim to an exacerbated number of games being postponed as full teams of baseball players and staff have tested positive for Coronavirus. If they continue without advancing their mitigation protocols, the World Series is sure to be in jeopardy.
While there are leagues that have jumbled their return to play, many professional leagues show hope for return to play in the amateur ranks with effective mitigation of the virus.
COVID-19 was a harbinger for a summer of little to no sports; for professional sports to be back on the air waves and surging in momentum is a very positive sign of things to come in the sporting world.