Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

For as long as any of us can remember, sports were always there when we needed them.

Even if they sometimes break our heart, sports are like the loyal friend who is there through good times and bad times.

Sports can be the equivalent of comfort food for the mind. They give us an escape from reality. They give us something to look forward to when the pressures and responsibilities of work or life become too much. They give us a chance to live vicariously for a few hours through an overpaid athlete or a 20-year-old college kid. That there was a game or race or meet to look forward to, either that night or next weekend, is what kept us pressing on.

One of the best aspects of sports is it has no labels or requirements. It brings together men and women, Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, young and old. Sports doesn’t check your party affiliation or identification at the turnstile. People from all corners and circumstances can root for the same team, athlete, driver or golfer and enjoy the experience together.

Most of all, live sports gave us hope when we needed it most. A victory was surely only a few hours away.

That all stopped suddenly two months ago. The sports fan will always remember where he/she was when it was announced that the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus and the NBA said it was shutting down its season. For the die-hard sports fan, it was a JFK assassination or moon landing kind of moment. A shutdown of all sports quickly followed. No NCAA basketball tournament, no NCAA

wrestling tournament, no NASCAR, no Major League Baseball, no Stanley Cup playoffs, no NBA playoffs, no Masters golf tournament.

Since mid-March, the only live sports we’ve had are virtual auto races – the equivalent of watching people play video games on your television screen – the NFL draft, a couple of UFC cards and baseball games from Korea that start in the middle of the night in the Eastern Time Zone.

Sports took its first step on the road back to normalcy Sunday. NASCAR started the engines on live sports with a race at the venerable track in Darlington, S.C. Golf even gave us a made-for-TV Skins Game. Each event was held without spectators.

NASCAR is taking an aggressive approach with its restart – seven races over three national series in 11 days, again each without spectators. Though watching cars make left-hand turns is boring to some, auto racing is a perfect tool for the return of sports.

Auto racing is the only televised sport that doesn’t utilize crowd noise as the soundtrack for the event. You can watch a race without spectators in the stands and not miss a thing. It’s the roar of the engines that you hear, not the fans in the stands.

Golf and tennis are much like auto racing in that the crowd reactions do not have a major impact on the event’s outcome or the viewer’s enjoyment level while he sits in his living room, remote control in hand and munching on snacks.

Football, baseball, basketball and hockey, however, are sports that without fans in the stands would be about as enjoyable to watch as a junior high tiddlywinks intrasquad scrimmage. College football needs the bands and fans. Baseball also need the fans, even the ones at PNC Park who do the Ric Flair “Woooo!” Basketball needs the Cameron Crazies and hockey needs the whiteouts and blackouts and jersey-wearing fans.

It’s going to take a long time to get live sports back to where they were in February. Some sports might never look the same. But, at least, we’re on the road to recovery, even if that road has only left-hand turns.

Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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