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OPINION: How not to cope with the grief of losing sports



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Students play a game of basketball during an after-school program Mach 10 at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Maryland. Tribune News Service

For any sports aficionado unacquainted with the five stages of grief, the last few weeks have been a rather illuminating crash course.

First came denial toward the idea that a pesky virus could pose any threat to supposedly invulnerable cultural pillars. 

But when the powers that be put the kibosh on televised athletics for the foreseeable future in mid-March, spectators lunged into the next phase — anger. We glared at screens beholding newscasters when they should have been showing two mediocre NBA squads duking it out for the eighth seed.

Then came bargaining. March Madness without live audiences once sounded unpalatable, but we were starving, subsisting only on the lies we fed ourselves.

Who cares if there’s nobody in the bleachers? I certainly never have. Now I can finally soak in the blissful tones of 20 sneakers screeching across hardwood, free from distracting cheers. 

Alas, our pleas to the basketball gods fell upon deaf ears, bringing us to depression. It is in this dismal frame of mind which I imagine many Americans currently find themselves.

I, however, am proud to claim I have advanced to acceptance. Have I confronted the mortifying prospect that my personality is defined by something beyond affiliations to athletes vastly more successful than myself? Don’t be silly. 

Instead, I have searched tirelessly for various avenues through which one can replicate the emotions of sports in a world of isolation.

When it appeared any organized event involving a ball or stick was canceled, I grew desperate, scouring my neighborhood for anything that remotely resembled the games I cherished. Before long I was the No. 1 fan of my street’s kickball club. They may not have been the ‘85 Bears, but by golly those 11-year-olds were plucky. 

Unfortunately, a subsequent shelter-in-place order put the burgeoning 2020 kickball season on hold. A real shame, considering many of my favorite players will soon exhaust their eligibility after they graduate elementary school.

It seems there is no place for physical contests in a quarantined society. Most nitrile gloves can’t fit over a baseball mitt, and two-hand-touch football is a bit of a non-starter. 

Then again, not every competition demands its participants share breathing space. What is racing if not a concerted effort to distance oneself from his opponents? 

The elderly couple strolling by my house may not realize they are a surrogate for the Indianapolis 500, but that doesn’t keep my pulse from spiking when Ethel surges to retake the inside edge of the cul-de-sac from Earl. 

Needless to say, the view from an upstairs window isn’t exactly a subscription to ESPN+. Still, I was determined to combine life and sport, even if it meant becoming part of the action.

With every pickup basketball court looking more like a massive concrete petri dish, I decided to give individual games an honest attempt. Thinking a tennis racket and a brick wall might be my salvation, I was promptly humiliated by an indomitable adversary. You’ve never seen Roger Federer return a serve like the side of my house can.

As it happens, adopting new skills is tricky when your brain is busy clinging to such priceless information as your favorite NFL team’s starting long snappers from the last three decades.

Perhaps not every facet of a well-rounded human’s existence ought to be governed by a game. Maybe there are better ways to progress from heartbreak to acceptance than mastering the craft of laundry basketball.

Logic aside, I would boast I have become a regular Damian Lillard with a wadded-up sock in my hands. Pretend dribble, pull up, shoot — nothing but hamper.

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