Writing About Sports In A World Without Sports
It’s been nearly a week since the NBA shut their season down, with MLB, MLS, and NHL following suit. Three of those four sports were playing regular season games (with the MLS season still in its early days), and MLB was approaching the end of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.
All of these leagues coming to a screeching halt, along with the cessation of all college sports (including the NCAA Tournament) and most international soccer put sportswriters such as myself in a conundrum: how are you supposed to write about sports in a world without live sports games?
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In a sense, us sportswriters have gotten lucky over the first week of the epidemic sweeping America because there’s still been news related to the coronavirus relevant to sports fans. NFL free agency and the start of the league’s year has also provided a respite, because it’s at least related to the on-field product (ignoring that we have no idea if the NFL season is going to start on time, at this rate). But once those dominoes all fall, sportswriters are going to have to cope with the strange reality we’re now living in: a world without sports.
All of us that do this full-time are now in a strange position. How are we supposed to cover our field when there aren’t any games and we have no idea *when* there will be games again? We can’t hibernate. We can’t write nothing but speculative, half-assed coronavirus coverage, because not only are we not experts, but we’re also just repeating ourselves and kicking the can down the road. Nobody wants to read (or write, for that matter) an article about MLB moving the potential start of the season back two weeks…and then two weeks later, moving it back another two weeks. It takes no skill, effort, or creativity to do that.
So, what can we write about in these times without sports? A few topics have popped into my mind.
History. This is perhaps the most obvious pivot for sportswriters: write about stuff that’s already happened with a new take on it, or include interviews with the key participants, or discuss how the event in question caused other things to happen. In many sports, there is over a century of games, stories, and players to revisit and discuss. If we’re not talking about the present, the past is a great time to discuss in the interim.
Alternate history. This ties into the history bullet point but is far more speculative and (in my opinion) fun. What would have happened if Player A signed with Team C instead of Team B? What would Team D and Team E would have looked like if Player F was included in a trade instead of Player G? Would Team H have had a dynasty if Team J had drafted Player K instead of passing on him? I absolutely inhale this type of content. I can’t get enough of it. I absolutely love alternate history novels and would be all about more alternate history sports articles.
Features. Well, duh. Without live games on the schedule, we all have more time to pursue that feature we’ve had percolating for months but could never get around to dedicating the time to writing. Players, coaches, executives, and members of the sports media aren’t doing much of anything right now, so you’d think they would have some time to give you to help with your longer form features.
Simulations. If you’re a gamer, this one is right up your alley. We’re not getting live games, so why not just…simulate the season on Out of the Park Baseball, MLB The Show, or NBA 2K? Yeah, it’s kind of dry if you end up with a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, or a Lakers-Celtics Finals, but those really weird, one in a thousand simulations where the Orioles win 87 games and the AL pennant are fun to look at for an outsider.
Listicles. Ah yes, the staple of writers everywhere in need of easy content: lists of stuff! I’ve fallen prey to listicles plenty of times in my career, and I typically like to keep them relevant to current news and events. For example, after a particularly bad trade or signing, the ten worst trades or contracts of the last decade. But with no live events, it’s tough to keep listicles relevant. Thus, more evergreen topics, like the best baseball books or the best hockey video games, are ripe for the picking now.
Personal stories. So much of the content we create is based on what’s happening in front of us, and the focus is on that action. Why not bring your own personal feelings and emotions into play? Talk about a game or athlete that meant a lot to you, and the significance of watching that event or player. Was there a specific game or athlete that had influenced you when you were younger? Talk about why! There’s a person behind the words we write, and even though most of us attempt to be impartial and unbiased, we all have underlying positive feelings towards certain events and athletes in our past. Maybe now is the time to explore those feelings.
All of these are fun ideas for sportswriters to cover in the coming weeks and months, and there is no shortage of possible topics for us to cover during these dark times. Live sports will eventually return, and we can get back to covering the day in and day out grind, but for now, let’s let our creative juices flow.
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.