Here comes the NFL ... it's almost like being there
As is the case of their wayward cousins in the performing arts, professional sports are designed — whether viewed on television or heard over the radio — to provide a couple of hours respite from the dark clouds overhead.
And for worn-out athletic supporters ... umm, sports fans ... never has the need for distraction been so great as during this cursed year of 2020.
So, while we offer hope, and prayer, and support for those directly impacted by this week’s fires, even the convoluted mess that the pandemic has made out of this annual diversion has provided a moment to catch our collective breath and an outlet to release pent-up tensions.
Sports, in all their shapes, sizes and levels of competition, are our most interactive form of popular culture.
In a theater seat, we might think that an interpretation of “Hamlet” is sub-par, but we know that it’s beyond our ability to muster something better.
Listening to popular singers’s performances, we can note that they seem to have lost something from their heydays ... but know that our own efforts in the shower or in the car fall far short.
But sports; for the sports fan, that version of the fourth wall is flimsy at best. We know that we could manage a team better, or hit an uncontested jump shot, or catch a pass when in the clear.
And we know that if it weren’t for some combination of inadequate coaching, missed opportunities and bad luck ... we, too, could make $45 million a year or so for playing a kid’s game.
Screaming at the failures or successes of favored teams and athletes is a damned far sight better than screaming at each other and/or the forces of nature of which we cannot control.
That said ... ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALLLLLLLLL!!!!!
OK ... maybe we’re not that ready.
But the NFL season has begun, and with it the universal angst and unanswered questions that arrive each week with anticipation or foreboding.
The NFL, maneuvering through the rocky shoals of the pandemic and social justice movement, is faced now with the task of justifying huge media contracts while teams attempt to play out the season with partially filled stadiums ... augmented by a continuous loop of “pre-recorded, league-curated audio” ... aka, fake crowd noise ... at no louder, or quieter, than 70 decibels.
And, if you’re a football fan, there’s nothing like three hours of continuous loop of re-recorded league-curated audio to get the competitive juices pumping so that boiled-up tensions can be released as participants grab, hit, smack and drag one another to the ground.
It’s just like Thanksgiving dinner ... well, in my childhood memories, anyway.
The NBA has taken the same approach in its hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar in DisneyWorld — where not only the audio has been added in, but “fans” as well for the benefit of the folks watching at home.
As the NBA Playoffs continue, with an expected ending date about two weeks into the start of the next regular season, the fan experience has been somewhat mollified by these videos, and the unspoken truth that watching the NBA from the relative relaxation of a recliner allows you to tune in for the only really suspense in these games ... or the final 2 minutes, whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, ICYMI, the NHL Final Four is being played out in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto — featuring teams from those well-known hockey hotspots of Las Vegas, Tampa, Dallas and Long Island.
If you can’t find a channel that is showing the NHL games, don’t worry; the playoffs are expected to last until the second week of the next regular season.
Which brings us to Major League Baseball, which among all the sports has found itself behind the times and struggling the most with its pandemic-shortened season.
Baseball has changed its rules, shortened some games, placed base runners in scoring position during extra innings in an attempt to get the thing over with as quickly as possible and — as only millionaire players and billionaire owners could believe is a fan-friendly idea — allowed folks to pay for the privilege of putting cardboard cutouts in seats around the stadium.
This has led to such awe-inspiring moments to watch as foul balls sitting motionless at the figurative feet of cardboard fans; one poor guy’s picture getting struck by a home run ball with such force that it sent him wafting down from its position above the Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park and — as only millionaire players and billionaire owners could believe is a fan-friendly moment — a teddy bear taking one right between the eyes in Oakland on a rocket-shot by Arizona’s Ketel Marte.
(Honestly, you have to find this on YouTube. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder what the hell has happened to your life.)
At least the team did what it could to help “Mr. T. Bear” ... wrapping his head in a bandage straight out of the Revolutionary War, and giving him the baseball.
As we wait for the NFL to ramp up in all its glory, though, I think I have found a quiet corner of the sports universe that actually has improved during these times.
Golf ... televised golf.
Golf without its galleries of fans who line every fairway and encase every green has provided a viewer experience that connects on a visceral level.
Players compete against the field, and against their own ability to control their physical and emotional stability.
This most simplistic of sports — hit the ball until it goes into a hole — has, without any artificial fans or pre-recorded, tour-curated audio at 70 decibels, been reduced to the basic elements ... and, in doing so, has opened a door for viewers to find a momentary haven.
Of course, then, it makes you want to go play a round ... where all those frustrations return. At least you have a club in your hands, and something whose lot in life actually is to be hit.
Stay safe, folks. Care for your families, your friends, your neighbors and yourselves. — firstname.lastname@example.org