People who start an inordinate amount of sentences with the words “I don’t want to sound offensive, but…” have been decrying the rise of “cancel culture” in recent years that has seen many high-profile figures face a day of reckoning for questionable decisions they’ve made, but this week, cancel culture took on a whole new meaning courtesy of COVID-19.
Coronavirus first came for the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year and I did not speak out because I was not a regular customer at the exotic food market where it allegedly originated. Then it came for cruise ships and I did not speak out because I cannot afford to go on a cruise. Then it came for toilet paper and I did not speak out because I had already gone to Costco before people started panicking.
But this week, it came for sports, and I cannot stay silent any longer.
It initially became clear the sports world was facing a crisis starting last week when various leagues around the world announced they’d begin playing games without fans in attendance in the interest of public safety.
However, on Wednesday night, the NBA kicked off what is perhaps the wildest 24-hour period in the history of sports when it announced it was suspending its season thanks to the dumbassery of Rudy Gobert.
At that point, the dam officially burst.
On Thursday, the NHL announced it would be following suit, Major League Baseball canceled spring training and postponed the start of the regular season, the XFL decided to put things on hold, and we simultaneously got some unreal March Madness and none at all when the NCAA revealed there will be no postseason tournaments this year.
As of right now, NASCAR is doing what it can to continue to hold races and the UFC has become the sports world’s equivalent of the tough guy who thinks coronavirus can’t affect him, but for all intents and purposes, sports have been canceled.
I spent a solid chunk of time watching this surreal series of events unfold on ESPN, and like many people out there, I couldn’t help but ask myself what the hell they’re going to do now that virtually all of the world’s largest sports leagues will not be playing games at any point in the near future.
However, we eventually got an answer concerning what viewers can expect and I doubt I’m the only person underwhelmed by how the network is choosing to handle it.
Given how quickly things transpired, I understand ESPN had to act fast to put together a contingency plan, and while I’m sure this could change, I’m struggling to understand how the powers that be decided the best course of action here was to perpetually air a show with “sports” in its name considering the circumstances.
Yes, there will still be news coming out as the current situation continues to develop and there’s no doubt ESPN should be covering the most notable stories concerning this global panic.
However, as far as I’m concerned, there’s an obvious solution here that seems to be going overlooked: making ESPN8 an actual thing.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “The Ocho,” the alternative network was featured in 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story as an outlet for sports the general public could give less of a shit about.
A few years ago, ESPN2 actually devoted a day of programming to obscure athletic events for our enjoyment and it’s become an annual tradition since then.
With the world currently going to shit, every media outlet on the planet has devoted itself to covering the coronavirus pandemic, and while I understand why ESPN would want to focus on the impact the illness is having on sports, I would like to humbly ask the network to embrace the “E” in its acronym and give us some of the entertainment we need at a time like this.
Things are already depressing enough as they are and I don’t want to turn on ESPN just to hear some talking head try to rustle up jimmies for the sake of ratings by arguing the NBA made the wrong decision because Michael Jordan managed to dominate a playoff game while he had the flu.
No. What I want is to know I can turn to ESPN when I need a break from this incredibly bleak news cycle and watch something that can at least be loosely defined as a sport even if I don’t have the faintest understanding of how it works.
I want curling. Guys with chainsaws expertly slicing logs. Jai alai. Sweaty, overweight British dudes playing darts. High-stakes cornhole. SlamBall. Men with a single uncomfortably large bicep arm-wrestling each other. Chessboxing. Pool players pulling off trick shots. CrossFit tournaments. Magnus Ver Magnusson pulling a truck. Fucking Quidditch. I don’t care.
Just give me some sort of competition and I’ll be happy.
Is it a bold strategy? Sure, but I think it’ll pay off for ESPN—and the rest of the world—when everything is said and done.