Many sports enthusiasts mark time by sports seasons. Score by score, game by game, they'll follow their favorite sports and teams all the way through the playoffs and, ultimately, the championship.
But in the Spring of 2020, that came to a sudden halt when the NBA canceled its season due to the rapid spread of Coronavirus. That announcement was quickly followed by the NHL suspending its season and other sports, including college basketball's March Madness and Major League Baseball following suit. For many sports fans, this not only marked the start of the pandemic but an unprecedented time in modern sports.
“The only thing remotely close to this situation was World War II and our nation’s sports landscape was vastly different at the time.,” explained Johnson & Wales associate professor and online instructor William Klika Ph.D. Klika. During that time Klika explained, while professional sports were left on hiatus, the industry wasn’t nearly as massive as it is today. “Players in professional sport leagues were almost entirely from North America, and the most popular professional sports at the time were baseball and hockey,” he added.
Now, professional athletes, television networks and millions of fans have felt the impact. Many have begun recognizing the true financial impact sports has on a wide range of individuals ranging from ticket takers to ushers and vendors.
Professional Athletes Making a Difference Off the Field
It wasn't long before professional athletes and their teams were stepping up to support stadium staff. Some of the first NBA players to commit to helping staff included Kevin Love, Joel Embiid and Blake Griffin. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team would help, and soon other NBA and professional sports teams followed suit. The support to combat COVID 19 widened to include other community-wide efforts, as well. Kevin Love's initial $100,000 donation to the staff at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Fieldhouse turned into an avalanche of coronavirus donations from other athletes and their teams.
Along with NBA players announcing contributions to arena staff and contract laborers, team owners and the NBA itself have joined in on the cause. Virtually every NBA team now has some form of relief effort in place for full and part-time staff and vendors. Although the NBA and its players have led the way to battle coronavirus, other leagues and its pro athletes have joined in on the fight, too.
Major League Help for Communities
Major League Baseball's Jason Heyward of the Chicago Cubs has donated $200,000 to be split between two Chicago-based organizations: the Greater Chicago Food Depository and MASK, an organization collecting food and other supplies for those impacted by the coronavirus. Brave's first baseman Freddie Freeman is donating $125,000 to The Giving Kitchen, the Atlanta Food Bank and the Salvation Army in Atlanta. Houston Astro's player George Springer has made a $100,000 commitment to help Minute Maid Park staff.
Overall, Major League Baseball is donating $1 million to emergency food funding, with individual teams pledging another $1 million each for the staff of their home stadiums. The league has also taken steps to help its minor league players who haven't had a payday since late last summer.
Hockey Skates in with Some Relief
From center ice to the front offices, National Hockey League players, executives and teams have committed to sizable coronavirus donations. Arizona Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen along with GM John Chayka are donating 20 percent of their salaries during the crisis to the Arizona Coronavirus Relief Fund and other causes that combat coronavirus and its negative financial impacts. Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky donated $100,000 to workers at BB&T Center. Multiple Boston Bruins players made donations via a GoFundMe page set up to benefit workers. Other fundraisers and auctions have been held and scheduled, most of which, of course, were online.
A Team Effort Outside of Team Sports
Beyond team sports, other athletic events have been impacted by coronavirus. The Master's Golf Tournament, for example, was canceled in the spring. In spite of the cancelation, Augusta National Golf Club, site of the tournament, is donating $2 million to local coronavirus efforts. The donation is being split with one million going to Augusta University to expand COVID-19 testing in the area and the other million designated for the Central Savannah River Area Emergency Response Fund.
NASCAR, which has also paused its season, is joining the cause. Racetracks around the country are being used for everything from blood donation drives to COVID-19 testing centers. Current and former race car drivers, including Keven Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Austin Hill, Max McLaughlin, Derek Kraus and Brad Keselowski, among others, have been involved in a variety of fund-raising efforts. For example, funds have been raised through virtual racing events.
Everyone Is in Play
Even the NFL, which has yet to have their schedule significantly impacted by the virus, is taking steps toward mitigating its damage. In late March 2020, the league announced that in conjunction with the player's association, the NFL Foundation, the individual clubs, owners and players, more than $35 million has been donated to COVID-19 relief efforts. The National Football League named 10 organizations that would receive funding, including the American Red Cross, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, CDC Foundation, GENYOUth Foundation, Meals on Wheels America, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, United Way and The Wounded Warrior Project. The New England Patriots even made available use of their team jet to bring in much-needed coronavirus-related supplies into the U.S. from overseas.
While many of us "miss our sports", it is heartwarming to know the players and teams we know and root for are doing their share throughout the communities they represent. The sports industry still works as a team to pull and work together in a common cause.
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