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The Pandemic Has Shown Us The Best And Worst Of Sports


This week, we’re doing something a little different. Since it’s been almost exactly a year since the coronavirus pandemic changed life in the United States in earnest, we wanted to talk about what we’ve learned from this deeply weird year of sports, whether there are any changes we made during the pandemic we’d like to keep, and what we don’t see ever “going back to normal.”

We’ve learned a lot. We learned how much flexibility sports that seemed set in stone can actually handle. We learned how much sports is a mirror that reflects larger trends in society. We learned how much sports means to us and brings us joy. But we also learned the limits of that joy, as we watched organizations bumble their pandemic responses and society at large fail to make it safe for athletes to play. There are some fun statistical questions to ponder about how much the 2020 (and 2021) pandemic seasons will “count” both for forecasting purposes and for individual legacies. There are sports that benefited from changes in scheduling and were able to break through (women’s sports, particularly the WNBA). There are sports (particularly Olympic sports at college and youth level) that may never fully recover. In the end, we’ll probably think about this time in a similar way to how we think about sports during World War II. For some, the pandemic will represent lost years. For others, it will look relatively normal. Well, except for all those cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands — those will probably still look weird.

Then, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil talks about the NBA All-Star Game and the best All-Star Games of all time. MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo went an incredible 16-for-16 shooting for Team LeBron (against a Team Durant weakened by injuries, it must be said), the highest-scoring perfect completion rate ever in an All-Star Game. This leads us to speculate on LeBron, who only scored 4 points, transitioning more into a coach or an owner role at the All-Star Game, and alternate formats for the All-Star Game in general. The NBA and NHL should have fun experimenting more, we think, but MLB needs to keep its All-Star Game exactly as it is. The less said about the Pro Bowl, the better.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.