The NBA suspended its season
that same day after a Utah Jazz player
tested positive for the coronavirus.
The next day, MLB suspended Spring
Training, the NHL announced a hiatus
for its ongoing season, and the NCAA
canceled all spring and winter cham-pionships.
On March 13, the Premier
League shut down, joining other pro
soccer leagues on the continent.
They were dark days for sports fans. It was March, but there would
be no March Madness. Instead of baseball’s Opening Day and the
stretch runs of the NBA and NHL, there was uncertainty.
We’re used to having sports terms applied to life: touching base,
knocked it out of the park, dropped the ball. Now we had a new one:
safe at home. It sounded like a baseball term, but what it meant was
no baseball because the state was locked down. No UNCW games in
the spring, no Wilmington Sharks games in the summer.
Fast-forward a few months, and there was some good news for
sports fans. Our favorite games were back — after a fashion. We were
still safe at home, but at least there was something to watch on the
big-screen TV in the living room.
MLB, the NBA and the NHL resumed their seasons. We got to see
the end of the regular season, playoffs and championships. We also
got to see cardboard cutouts in stands — cute at first, but quickly
creepy — and hear artificial crowd noise. Someone, either in the sta-dium
or in a control booth, turned up the cheers or boos depending
on what was happening on the field.
We saw strange sights. A batter would get on base. Either he or the
first baseman might or might not wear a mask. Over in Europe, soccer
substitutes were required to wear masks while socially distancing in the
stands as the starters on the field were breathing heavily on each other.
The pandemic era brought us a truly bizarre ending to the World
Series. Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled
from the Series-clinching game when a positive COVID-19 test result
came through before the eighth inning — and then returned to the
field without a mask to celebrate with his teammates.
We’re still seeing strange sights. Officials on the football field and
support personnel on the sidelines wear masks while the players –
who are snorting on each other from a few feet away — don’t.
The pandemic is affecting sports in other ways. We used to watch
the injury lists to see who was going to play. Now we watch the
COVID-19 testing results to see if there’s even going to be a game.
While there is no shortage of sports to watch on TV these days, few
of us get to see them in person. The NFL followed the guidelines of
each state or municipality. At most, that meant 25 percent of capac-ity.
If you were thinking of heading to Charlotte for a Panthers game,
good luck. Phase 3 of North Carolina’s lockdown orders meant 7 per-cent
capacity at outdoor venues — or 5,240 fans at the 75,523-seat
Bank of America Stadium.
If we wanted to watch our favorite college football team, the same
7 percent rule applied. And that’s for schools that allowed fans. Some
restricted attendance to family members.
At least there was college football. Lots of folks in New Hanover
County like to spend Friday nights in
the fall watching their favorite high
school team. But in the Tar Heel State,
there won’t be any prep football until
Many sports fans in North Carolina
circle dates in late November on their
calendars. This is basketball country,
and hoops season tips off around
Thanksgiving. So it did in 2020, but
again the coronavirus dictated major
Duke’s basketball opener against
Gardner-Webb, scheduled for Nov. 25,
was postponed because of COVID-19.
NC State’s “Old Barn” was the empty
barn at the beginning of the season. The
school limited attendance at 5,500-seat
Reynolds Coliseum for men’s and wom-en’s
games to 25. All were players’ guests.