Timeout | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Timeout

/ 05:35 AM May 03, 2020

When a global pandemic shut down sports’ marquee events around the world, it became clear that things would change forever. Athletes. Games. Leagues. Audiences. Fans. Finances. Everything will undergo a metamorphosis in a post-pandemic sporting world.

The novel coronavirus and the disease it brought (COVID-19) disrupted sports merely by being a health menace that made social distancing as much a norm as stopping at a red light.

Sports has fought back before, literally even. In the Sept. 11 attacks, according to sports columnist Rick Reilly, the first fight-back against the terrorism that also altered social norms did not happen in the battlefield. It happened in the plane purportedly aimed at the US Capitol. Four men with athletic backgrounds spearheaded an in-flight revolt that knocked control out of the hijackers and crashed the plane elsewhere.

But sports will have to get creative this time when it fights back against a pandemic that has locked down cities and economies for a period of time long enough to cut deep scars.

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Already, some leagues have crawled out of stoppage. Baseball in Asia. Soccer in Europe. They’ve returned—with a marked difference. Instead of fans, cardboard placards occupied empty stadium seats. Instead of cheers and boos, the audible proof of a game being played was the echo of balls cracking against baseball bats and the unmistakable sound of shoes hitting soccer balls.

The effects are in place already. Athletes are like hyperhumans; their physical and emotional attributes are magnified — even negative ones. And the lockdown has left some of them with a heightened sense of failure and helplessness that has taken a toll on their mental health.

“This [quarantine] flew in the face of what they had been taught and socialized to do, which is, ‘Let’s play,’” John Tauer, the men’s basketball coach and psychology professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, told the Associated Press.

“While we expect them to be tough, [to] endure pressure and challenges, it can also be overwhelming for them,” psychologist Marcus Manalo, who consults for several national athletes, college players, and club professionals, told this paper.

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FIFPro (International Federation of Football Professionals) recently released a survey on its website that revealed “[t]wenty-two percent of women players and 13 percent of men players reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression. Eighteen percent of the women and 16 percent of the men reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety.”

Audiences and fans are gripped by fear, too. A survey conducted by Seton Hall University, which is also posted on its website, showed that 72 percent of respondents would not watch games live without a COVID-19 vaccine—even with strict attendance protocols and social distancing in stadiums enforced.

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Professional team owners are taking a major hit nowadays as they pay for contracts with severely diminished returns on their investments. And with revenue streams drying up, a lot of owners have already hinted on huge pay cuts for their pros.

And the players may not have a say on the matter. They could face massive social backlash if they argue for their salaries — some of which reach obscene levels — to remain intact while those who are risking their lives at the pandemic frontlines get paid considerably less. Catching a ball to amaze audiences has been unwittingly grossly devalued by the heroism of people dying to keep those audiences stay alive.

And the changes and effects will last beyond the months-long lockdown. Physics has something called hysteresis, “the phenomenon in which the value of a physical property lags behind changes in the effect causing it.” In economics, it defines that anomaly when the unemployment rate caused by a recession persists even after the recession.

Hysteresis in sports means leagues and tournaments would need to reshape sports’ identity in a post-pandemic world.

Because that world will need sports. Whether it is leagues reopening immediately after 9/11, a PBA Finals resuming in the midst of a coup d’état, or baseball being urged on by a US president after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sports has a way of hastening a return to normalcy.

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There is no — and never will be — a counterculture to centercourt pileups after buzzer-beating wins or champagne-soaked championship celebrations in locker rooms. These displays of victories, of obstacles being overcome, are a reminder of a time before COVID-19, and will surely inspire the restoration of sports in our lives — reconfigured as needed, with new playbooks in place — when we reach the other side of this pandemic.

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