BRYANT, ARKANSAS: By early last week, I had stopped looking for televised sports. When I have downtime (usually that’s rare), I settle in and find a game, often accompanied on the couch by my sons J.D. (11) and Luke (8). A few days earlier, I had flipped to our CBS affiliate during what was supposed to be the NCAA Tournament Selection Show but was instead the local news moved up 30 minutes because, of course, the NCAA Tournament had been canceled. Finally, I got out of the habit of looking, but it took at least three days.
Sports are canceled. It hurts to type that sentence, but it’s true as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Americans in every aspect of life, including ending sports at all levels for the unforeseeable future. The NCAA Tournament — canceled, the NBA, MLS and NHL on hold. Major League Baseball abandoned spring training and won’t begin its season until May at the earliest. All spring collegiate sports nixed — even the College World Series in nearby Omaha.
Frankly, that reality is hard for me to deal with. It’s actually given me the shakes. Now, I know the cancelation of sports is the least of our concerns, as many Americans have been stricken with this illness and our economy already has taken a major hit. The way I have dealt with that kind of crushing news is sports. Some people cook, garden, hunt or play golf. I watch sports and follow my sons’ teams. It’s my hobby and my outlet.
Many have compared the COVID-19 crisis with 9/11, and I agree with that except for one thing. One of Americans’ common bonds during that uncertain time was sports. The 2001 World Series resumed. For one night, I was so upset at how my Yankees choked to the Diamondbacks I forgot about our nation’s plight. College football and the NFL resumed, and we got through the crisis three-hour games at a time. Or at least I did.
So last weekend as the Selection Sunday came and went with no tournament, reality sunk in. I knew I had to do something to ease the pain of what I’ve called “seasonless depression.” I came up with a Sports Question of the Day, or Sports QOD, on social media. The hope was that by discussing sports each day, together we could take our minds off the realities that loom over us like a dark cloud. I knew it would help me.
What I didn’t know is how much this would help others. I’ve gotten several calls and texts from friends, including several from Carroll, that have thanked me for the questions. We’ve discussed everything from how you picked your uniform number to who is the all-time greatest NFL running back to who is your favorite player to hate. Lots of fun topics and spirited discussion. However, my favorite thread was when I asked friends and followers to post pics of them and their kids wearing their uniforms. I might have shed a tear. It was awesome seeing so many posts from proud parents of their kids, both current and older pics of when their kids were smaller.
There’s something pure about kids playing sports. It’s also great to see parents proud of their kids. I know that most of them are like me as I miss seeing J.D. and Luke playing soccer and baseball, respectively. Since February, we’ve spent hours at practices and games. It’s an empty feeling to not have that to look forward to each week. Those pictures brought back those warm feelings we all have as parents. I also enjoyed a thread of pictures of favorite game days with friends and family. I saw a lot of fun pics of tailgating and watch parties and, again, parents and kids sharing time together — very heartwarming and encouraging.
I plan to post a QOD until live sports return. They’re available publicly on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nate.olson.391.
We’ve been told in Arkansas the peak will not come for six to eight more weeks. We know that all sports may very well be on hold at least until summer. Good thing for me, I am very creative and have a lot of useless knowledge in my head, and I’ve trained the boys well. They have already written down several ideas and look forward to each question. We will pray for this to end as soon as possible but will be ready to entertain for the long haul.
My mom and dad always taught my brother and me to be positive — to try to find the good out of things and find something good even during a tough time. For us, it’s been family. With no rigorous sports schedule or games on TV, we’ve gone fishing, played board games (I got smoked in Pictionary) and watched old movies. We are a tight-knit unit, but after this quarantine, we will be even closer. Our boys know we are in this together and are going take care of each other.
The other silver lining is the distraction of the QOD. I look forward for more interaction, as we try to fill the void that sports occupies in so many of our hearts.
Nate Olson is a 1993 graduate of Carroll High School and a 96 graduate of Northwest Missouri State University. He was a 1996 Times Herald intern and has enjoyed a long journalism career working for several publications in Arkansas. He currently is a full-time communications manager but still writes two weekly online sports columns focused on Razorbacks sports and co-hosts a statewide high school football scoreboard show on radio in the fall.