MORGANTOWN — The other night I tuned to one of the network late shows, something I often did in more normal times for by 11:30 in the p.m.
I normally have had one too many beers and one too few laughs and this would provide a cure at least for the shortage of laughter.
But these are not normal times and there was something of a rude awakening, that being that the words of the comedian could not make me laugh.
Oh, they were funny. It was just … well, it was just that there was no one there to laugh with.
Laughter is contagious, they say, and doesn’t that make for something of a irony that it should be muffled by something even more contagious, COVID-19.
The point is, folks, that you matter. You are as much a part of the show as the star performers in comedy, in concerts and, perhaps, most important in athletic events.
The talk now is that they thinking of resuming sports, but doing so in empty stadiums and arenas.
They cite safety, but think of this for a moment, if it is dangerous to the health of spectators to be seated next to each other, then is it not far more dangerous for the athletes down there playing the games, spit and snot and blood often flying in their faces … banging and bumping.
True, the games can be played. It’s even happened. On April 29, 2015, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox, 8-2, in an empty Camden Yards, fans being banned from attending the game for safety reasons.
“It was kind of like the instructional league, the Gulf Coast League, the Arizona League,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the time.
The fans were banned because Baltimore was on edge over riots that had ensued over the death of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray while in police custody.
It was eerie. They played the National Anthem. They played music during the game and held the seventh inning stretch, but the only fans were gathered outside the locked center field gates, erupting in happiness when the Orioles scored.
“It was just a surreal environment,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
“I really don’t think we want to play another one like this. I don’t think they do either.”
The players played as though they were late for dinner, playing in 2 hours and 3 minutes, an unheard of time of game in this era.
How will it be in these parts if sports starts up as nothing more than “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” a television show filled with jokes in need of a laugh.
College sports at its base is a game, yes, but it more than that. It is pageantry. It’s flashing lights and fireworks, cheerleaders and marching bands, video boards to keep from having bored fans. It is pregame tailgates, fans wearing their school’s colors, a Mountaineer mascot shooting off his rifle.
Yes, it is athletes competing but they are driven by the crowd. If don’t think so, let your mind wander back into the Coliseum and as WVU comes surging from behind seeing players urging on the student body to be louder, more vocal … produce a riot of sound that drowns the opposition.
What is a basketball game without the student body, armed with props, hurling barbs at the opposition, intimidating the officials. It’s as much a part of the game as dunks in basketball and touchdowns in football.
Imagine a Tavon Austin touchdown run with no one there to cheer it.
Did I just hear a tree falling in the forest?
The players know that they need the fans for optimum performance. A month ago, when it seemed the NBA would try to play the season without fans, it was not well accepted at all.
LeBron James said when the talk began that he said, “ain’t playing if ain’t got fans in the crowd.”
“I heard [LeBron’s} comments on that,” Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, the former Oklahoma star, said.
“Not playing with fans is going to be weird. Honestly, I don’t see that happening. I couldn’t play.”
Athletes, like entertainers, need a reaction to their efforts. Like a 2-year-old being potty trained, they need positive encouragement.
And we, the American people, need to be entertained. This nation gets much of its energy, must of its culture from the interplay between athletes and fans. We seek autographs, rush the court after great upsets, boo bad calls and cheer heroics.
That isn’t the way it should be. It’s the way it must be.
Waiting until it is totally safe to gather in groups is not giving in to defeat to the pandemic that haunts us, it is victory in and of itself.
And when the games do begin, imagine, if you will, magnitude that will come with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
— Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel