Important disclaimer: I acknowledge this is far from the most consequential aspect of the shelter-at-home policies under which half of this country and many others around the world are enduring. And I’m aware that I happen to be one of the lucky ones in that I’m nor anyone that know personally have been infecting with the coronavirus, and that I still get to work, which sadly so many of my friends and so many of you do not and have much bigger questions than this to answer. This, however, is just a story. But stories are good in this short time before some random CEO literally shows up at my door to harvest my organs and kick my dog.
I’m not much for routine, but I am one for rhythm. The former is boring, rote, and mind-numbing. The latter is a foundation, a base, a starting point, a reference—an underlying structure or grounding to which we can always return.
Or maybe, as a former (terrible) drummer, it’s just the way I lean.
We’re all dealing with a loss of rhythm to our days, our lives, in some way and at whatever scale. For some of us, that’s the night-in, night-out theater of sports. Whether we watch as many games as possible or just have them playing in the background, it’s present and provides context and landmarks. Without it, there’s an unmoored feeling. Untethered. Everything seems to be floating in some undefined space, and every day looks the same without really anything different to mark it from the last one. There’s no beat, no indicator of where we are and what’s next. There’s no constant bass drum or a crash of a cymbal. For me—and likely others—the familiar and consistent schedules of our favorite sports and teams were just that.
Baseball would have started today. And, while Opening Day has most of its slate in the afternoon, soon baseball would retreat to its every-night schedule. Thursdays, and occasionally Wednesdays, for the spring and summer months, would see “getaway day” afternoon games. The weekend would bring more. Sunday night, generally after a late-afternoon baseball nap with the A’s or Dodgers on in the background, would signal the upcoming weekly cycle was set to start all over again. It was reflexive: I knew when to turn the TV on, and what I would find. It was innate. Without it, it’s like being in the grocery store and not only being unable to find what you came for but being unable to remember what you came for and wandering around hoping something will remind you before you start to feel like your grandfather. The constant but light everyday beat of baseball that backed the summer.
I covered the Blackhawks and the NHL for 12 years. The full slates were on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The Hawks would usually have games on these nights or far too many on Wednesday nights for national TV. NBCSN would cover games Monday through Wednesday. When I stopped tuning into NBCSN, my internal clock told me I had passed hump day and was nearing the end of the week. Thursday nights was the time I would flip over to TNT to try and catch one NBA game—usually the back half of their double-header. Saturday brought afternoon games and then “Hockey Night in Canada” that evening. Sundays would usually feature the Hawks with a 6 p.m. home game.
It was bracketed. I felt where I was in the week, in the month, in time. I was centered. That was the every-other-day beat of winter sports.
If you’re a soccer fan like me, Saturday and Sunday mornings were full of sports viewing options. They kicked off or highlighted your weekend. You could even spill into the afternoons with Serie A or La Liga, if you so chose. The middle of the week saw the Champions League. Two or three days then matches. Two or three days...then matches.
A constant beat.
Sometimes the games were the highlights of your week. Other times, they welcomed distractions that helped pass the time leading up to that week’s highlight (a show, a party, a night out with friends, a vacation...whatever). They were at the back of the stage with the big events at the front. Either way, they were there, setting the beat. And now they aren’t there, and neither are any of the other entertainment options. There are no shows or nights out or vacations to look forward to. The landscape is bare, and it has no beat.
Perhaps what I’m missing is the “in the moment” feeling I get from games. That, of course, is what advertisers chase and why rights fees remain the golden goose of broadcast television. They anchor us into that time and place; and, as evil as it can be, platforms like Twitter serve as virtual meeting places for large groups to, in effect, watch these games together, enhancing the communal feeling. Without this invisible, binding tether, we feel even more separate. We’re not all slamming a fist into the couch at the same time over a blown defensive assignment or nearly hitting our ceiling fans after a game-winning goal. We have less of a sense of each other. This leaves us grasping for something—anything—and that feels desperate.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe the seemingly endless time to fill feels even longer because the emotions don’t change, the heart rate doesn’t spike or the anger doesn’t build. There’s no rush of a great play you haven’t seen before or the affirmation of your team winning or the feeling of frustration as they continue spiraling with another loss or despondence when you realize that they won’t compete for a championship or even a playoff spot or the giddy anticipation you can’t conceal when they will. Our physical routines don’t change at the moment, and if you’re like me neither do your emotional ones. Everything has become flat, and gray.
These days, we wake up and the day stretches out like Nebraska with nothing but empty expanse between where we are and the horizon. We might as well be on another planet. Tomorrow it’ll be the same barren scape with no destination. No spikes, no dips, just unrolled ground. It’s what it would have looked like if Furiosa, Max, and The Wives hadn’t turned around and headed back to The Citadel. Nothing but salt on the schedule.
There are far bigger worries and fears out there now than how to pass the time. But it’s harder to distract yourself now, which probably adds to everyone’s fears. There’s more time to sit around and worry about what will happen, how will our country fuck this up royally, how the dumbest among us continue to put the rest of us in danger. There’s only so much distraction “Love Is Blind” can provide from that, at least for those of us who are used to putting up the sports blinders, at least for a short time. That short time feels like an eternity now.