When I was a kid, I was a sports fan of the moderate variety partly because it was background noise when I was growing up and almost every television one encountered on one’s daily travels was playing some sort of team or solo sport. I don’t recall being a huge fan of any particular team or teams, but I remember like/hating the Yankees because they seemed to win a lot whenever I saw a game on TV and most everyone I knew in the Bronx area not liking the Mets because they lost so much. Well, they did win big a few times, but I recall the old post-game show, Kiner’s Korner being renamed “Whiner’s Korner” by a school friend who did a spot-on impression of Ralph Kiner. One fine day in school, a teacher who was walking past us in a hallway as we headed to lunch overheard his impression, stopped dead in his tracks and asked him to do it again, laughing. He was a Mets fan, but he also found that impression pretty hilarious.
Other sports such as football, basketball, the occasional hockey match and many, many more were watched over time, we got a load of education on assorted sports around the world from ABC, and yes, I was a boxing fan for ages. A relative once met Muhammad Ali in an airport back in the early 70’s and got his autograph in a small slip of paper (which is still kept in a scrapbook here). Ali’s eventual decline from greatness was a sad thing to see as the 70’s turned into the 80’s, however. It’s one of the reasons I pretty much stopped watching the sport save for in the 2000’s when I assisted in a few game events for EA Sports where a few boxing video games were playable at a series of Golden Gloves matches here in NYC. Amusingly enough, sports games were a big thing here for a while, but as they got more visually impressive, I started to miss older games like Tecmo Bowl and a few titles up to the 32-bit era. As they became more monetized, now, I avoid most modern sports titles, although I’m a sucker for a good racing game, specifically a good rally game.
Anyway, with this pandemic and its forcing sports to more resemble older video games with elements like crowds that look like cardboard cutouts replacing fans or teams playing to nearly empty stadiums complete with piped-in cheers, I took a curious look at a few games and nope, they weren’t the same. Sure, the visceral thrill part was there, but the overall picture was a tad lacking in that one needed to overlook the sparse or fake audiences (or mixtures of both oversized crowd cutouts and real spectators) and the sad fact that maybe a player might take I’ll if even the tiniest precaution wasn’t taken. But, folks need their entertainment, their bread and circuses if you like. So, here we are. An online friend whose wife is a nurse said to me last year that she thought maybe watching hospital staff treating pandemic patients might make a good spectator sport. She noted that while it won’t be as thrilling as a hard body check or a miracle three-pointer, the whole life or death thing on a daily basis might be a thing one won’t get from those other team sports.