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A sports-free country is the least of our worries

With a global pandemic and civil unrest happening throughout the country, maybe a return to sports can take a back seat for a little while.

Barcelona Football Team Stadium Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The COVID-19 crisis has put the sports world on pause, for the most part, since March. Back when the pandemic started, I wrote that suspending professional and college sports was the right move to keep people safe_. Recently, lots of people have called for baseball and other sports to return, and the professional leagues have been working on plans of action for that to happen as safely as possible. Those in favor of bringing sports back say it would “bring the country together” and be a distraction from the outside world. In most other cases, I would probably agree with them, sports do have the power to give people hope in dark times, and lots of people are looking for hope at the moment. However, with the addition of the unrest occurring throughout the country as people protest the ongoing problem of police brutality, maybe we can’t really afford to have a distraction from the outside world. Perhaps we have to be paying attention.

Every single time something happens in the world, and an athlete or sportswriter attempts to speak up on it, they are typically met with the same refrain, “stick to sports.” This practice has continued during recent protests against the killing of George Floyd. A famous person in the sports world calls for change, and at least one person tells them to “stick to (sport they play/cover.)” This is troubling for a couple reasons. First off, there are no sports to stick to right now, because nobody’s able to play anything. Second, “stick to sports” often implies that athletes or journalists shouldn’t talk about anything besides their day job, and especially not social issues. For the Stick To Sports crowd, those in the sports world aren’t really people with feelings and opinions, but instead objects, that do nothing but play or talk about games for the personal amusement of the people. The problem with this idea is that, of course, those who work in sports are people who have large platforms and are allowed to use them however they choose. It signals to them that they’re not allowed to speak up on anything that makes some people uncomfortable. Ironically, these same individuals often tout the First Amendment and right to free speech when they feel like they’re being silenced for having an opinion. By saying “stick to sports,” people are choosing to ignore that there are things that athletes and those in sports media care about outside of their day jobs. Without sports taking place, they kind of have to focus their attention to other, more pressing matters.

It just so happens that a lot of people happen to be upset about social injustice this week, and without sports as a distraction, we can’t possibly continue to ignore these issues, whether we like it or not. We are no longer able to pretend as if a game is more important than people’s actual lives, because there are no games to talk about instead.

The decision to suspend professional and college sports for the foreseeable future was made because the pandemic was a danger to people’s lives, and not taking action to keep people safe would have disastrous consequences for the country and the world. What we are seeing in the Twin Cities and across the United States with these protests is a very similar call to action. If something isn’t done to address the problems that African Americans face, more lives will be lost. And if stadiums have to be vacant to finally get us to talk about it, then so be it.