How sports still made us thankful amid COVID pandemic


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Sports Pulse: Thanksgiving is upon us and 2020 has been anything but ordinary. So we asked athletes and some of USA TODAY Sports’ reporters what they’re thankful for this year.
USA TODAY

Let’s cut to the chase: 2020 has been a difficult year.

A pandemic that has killed more than 250,000 Americans. A wave of protests unseen in decades. Anxieties over a bitterly contested presidential election.

The first 11 months of this year have been stressful, and so often we turn to sports as a distraction, an escape. The issues presented by COVID-19 made that impossible during the beginning stages of the pandemic.

We learned to be grateful for the games without them. And then sports came back — at first, drip by drip, followed by a deluge.

As Thanksgiving arrives and people take stock of what’s important in their lives, here are some things sports fans can give thanks for in a year unlike any other.

Bubbles

The idea of creating an environment to safely play games deserves the most thanks.

Several leagues opted for this route, along with rigorous testing procedures,  to resume play while keeping the virus at bay. The NHL jumped right into the postseason with two bubbles initially, and the NBA played a few games — remember when the Phoenix Suns won all eight of theirs and still went home? — before starting its playoffs. The WNBA, NWSL, MLS and Premier Lacrosse League all adopted bubble formats.

Even Major League Baseball constructed playoff bubbles, which proved successful until Justin Turner’s positive test the day the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series. The NCAA has said it’s looking to sequester the Field of 64 (well, 68) for its men’s basketball tournament in Indiana.

College basketball season

The cancellation of March Madness was one of the first signs of the seriousness of the pandemic. A tradition of that magnitude evaporating seemingly overnight shook sports fans. But college basketball marks its return Wednesday.

The 2020-21 season won’t be smooth, as cancellations and postponements have already mired the first week of the season. Hopefully, conference play will run as safely as possible and March Madness will return.

WNBA ratings

While virtually every major league and marquee event endured brutal ratings decreases, the WNBA soared. Ratings went up by 68% for regular-season viewership, the league said.

Perhaps the WNBA and the networks learned a valuable lesson: If you put a fun product on television, people will watch. ESPN aired a record 37 games from the “wubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and the league appears ready to keep growing by embracing social media and online streaming.

MLS/NWSL…



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