Sportswriting in the Age of COVID-19

It has now been a month since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all professional sports. If everything was normal, right now we would be watching the end of the NBA and NHL season while just beginning the MLB season. Instead, there is nothing.

The sports world feels like it’s in a never-ending offseason. It is incredibly eerie not having live professional sports on TV. From a historical standpoint, we are living in a remarkably rare moment.

Every sports league has experienced moments in history where they had work stoppages. Just in the last decade alone, we have seen the NFL, NHL, and NBA all experience labor-related work stoppages that led to shortened seasons.

The MLB, which is the oldest of the four major sports leagues, has experienced war or catastrophe related work stoppages. The 1918 season was cut a month short as a result of World War I. During World War II, the MLB took a few days off as a result of D-Day.

In 1989, an earthquake in San Fransisco delayed the World Series 10 days. After 9/11, the MLB took a week off. The only time professional sports take time off is in times of war, natural disasters, or labor disputes.

While the MLB did not take time off during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, the entire sports world has responsibly paused their leagues to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides a couple of days after 9/11, we have never seen all of the sports leagues experience a work-stoppage all at once, and never for this long.

Without live sports, the sports media world has had to improvise and adjust. Now, the only sports news is about how the sports world is impacted by COVID-19 and offseason transactions from the leagues that aren’t in-season.

The NFL and WNBA are in their offseason so we have gotten normal offseason transaction news, albeit with a twist. With public events canceled for the foreseeable future, the WNBA Draft will take place over a video conference. The NFL Draft will take place virtually as well.

The MLB, NBA, and NHL would be playing their season right now, yet the only news coming out of there are their respective plans to resume their league. Between the MLB’s “Arizona Plan” and the NBA’s 25-day plan to resume their season, there isn’t much else to talk about.

Sportswriting in the age of COVID-19 has completely altered the entire sports media industry. A greater emphasis has been placed on the past, as many TV networks and sports leagues have succumbed to showing historical sporting events. Without sports taking place in the present and the future unknown, all we have is the past.

The industry has gotten so desperate for content that they’ve started pushing video game simulations. MLB 20 The Show simulations are being done across many networks, with the results being reported like they actually happened. We have seen headlines like “MLB The Show Simulation: Detroit Drops Series Finale vs Angels” and “MLB The Show sim: Sox bullpen continues to struggle.” Baseball-Reference.com is using Out Of The Park Baseball 21 to simulate a season and keep track of standings and stats. This is where we are at.

mlb the show

The best content to come from the COVID-19 work stoppage is the MLB 20 The Show player’s tournament and the NBA’s HORSE competition. While reporting video game simulations are pretty desperate, having real MLB players play video games against each other is something different and fun. The opportunity has allowed athletes to demonstrate their personalities and brand which is productive for the league as a whole.

The NBA’s HORSE tournament featured current and former NBA and WNBA players playing a game of HORSE against each other. For those who miss basketball, it was refreshing and fun to see these players compete over the children’s recess game. For the NBA at a pause, this is good content.

However, even if it’s good content for entertainment purposes (which is the whole point of sports, to begin with), it doesn’t leave much material for sportswriters to report on. How much analysis or opinion can be done for a game of HORSE or a video game tournament between MLB players?

With sports not being played, sportswriters become almost useless. Sports journalism relies on the constant need for sports to be played. There is a reason why all the leagues in America are set up where a day doesn’t go by without some kind of sports being played.

It is almost like the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed sportswriting for the profession that it is: trivial journalism for entertainment institutions. Without these institutions being able to entertain, the writers who cover them become meaningless. Left without sports, the industry goes grasping at straws for something to say.

This isn’t supposed to be an indictment on the sports world. Now that everyone knows what it is like to go without sports, it becomes much more obvious why we need outlets for entertainment like sports. Without them, life is a lot more boring and uninteresting. Without the ability to escape into a good sports matchup, the world becomes much gloomier.

Professional sports will return at some point. Until then, take the opportunity to indulge in some different hobbies. Explore new interests now, because once sports return we all know where our attention will return to.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.

For more thoughts and opinions from Zachary, check out his author page or Twitter.

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