George Thwaites

I’ve held off writing this column for more than a week, now. I don’t like having to state the obvious in print.  Every official sporting event on earth, as far as we know, has been called off indefinitely. I am unaware of anyone who has a point of reference for what is currently happening in the world.  I certainly don’t.

I’ve always preferred to shine a light on the more positive aspects of existence. In hindsight, that’s probably why I stayed in sports journalism. But the best I can do is whistle in the dark. This is not good.

Sports isn’t where I started. When I began my newsroom career in 1985,  I wrote about horrific car crash fatalities, chemical spills on the interstate and homicides. In 1989 when I transitioned into full time sports writing, it was simply a job opening when I needed a job. My only qualification was that I’d played sports in high school and college. I had to fight to get it. I learned to love it.

 Some might speculate that I find myself more shaken up by the sports shutdown than the average person because, aside from it having been essential to my livelihood for more than three decades, I no longer have the benefit of something which was a welcome distraction from ‘“the real world.”

That isn’t the case. It never has been the case. We call them “games,” but sports are never about anything other than reality. Do this. Do that. Get from here to there. Succeed. Or fail. It doesn’t get more real than that.

When a Little Leaguer gets hit in the mouth with a baseball due to a bad hop, it hurts.  A leather baseball glove smells a certain way. The kid gets dirty and sweaty, maybe even poops himself a little colliding with a first baseman.  A third strike makes his ears burn with frustration and embarrassment. People, after all, are watching. Cheering. Reacting. Merely reaching base is uplifting. Not doing so is a disappointment. 

When you’re a kid, playing sports is as engaged with reality as anything you’ll ever do. This is, to some degree, absolutely true for anyone who is deeply involved with sports at any level, be it player, coach, trainer, equipment manager, booster, popcorn vendor, cheerleader, drum major, clarinet player, announcer, broadcaster, sports writer or fan. Everyone involved is a real, live human being, engaged in the moment.  Everyone is a distinct individual. Even in a place like Lane Stadium when it’s absolutely deafening, this is acutely and transcendentally evident. Embellish the spectacle however you like: reality at it’s most immediate, it remains.

Sports are literally one of the most mundane of human activities, by which I mean it happens in the real world or it doesn’t happen at all.  There is no scripted, predetermined outcome. Sports commentators and columnists can seemingly argue about how many  L.A. Angels can fit onto the head of a pin. But there is really no sports equivalent of debating whether Daenerys burning down King’s Landing on the back of a dragon was consistent with her character arc. There is no CGI in sports. Whether at Bluefield or in Blacksburg or in Pittsburgh, the feats being debated after the fact were achieved by human flesh and blood, in physical space and shared time.  If you were there, it was real. You saw it. It happened. And this cycle of games and seasons has been going on and on and on since long before we were born.

Now, out of the blue, all over the world — none of it is happening.  Whether you embrace sports or ignore sports or even despise sports, this is an  unmistakeable sign that everything we have taken for granted has come to a screeching halt. This is far more jarring than the mere postponement of an entertainment. This is an alteration of reality itself.  And it is dreadful to behold. What other realities can we expect to intrude?

Be brave. There’s simply no other way. Be kind. Cherish family and friends. Be a good citizen. Be reasonable. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be selfish. Don’t be a jerk. Pray. When this shadow passes, how do you want to be remembered?  The end of an era is inherently frightening, but another era will surely follow on its heels — hopefully sooner than later.  It won’t be like it was before. It’s liable to be challenging. But we’ll endure.

It is my fervent wish that everyone who can read this will pass through this crisis safely and soundly. I’d kind of like to get through it, as well. In spite of the unease which I share with many of my fellow citizens, I am certain a hopeful outcome is possible  and, most likely, probable. 

 When we get to the other side of it, may we all look forward to the happy day when the games return.

 — George Thwaites is the Sports Editor of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

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