While addressing the needs of drug addicts is an important concern during the pandemic (and I have discussed earlier coffee and alcohol, and other drugs), there are others whom we sometimes also label as ‘addicts’ because they are incredibly devoted to something, even though this may not be due to ingesting anything. One major category among these types of addictions is sports.
Rhiannon, from over at Intransitive who lives in Taiwan, knowing that I am a cricket fan, sent me a link to a Taiwanese media news item about efforts by cricket fans in India trying to get Taiwan to broadcast their games so that they can be watched in India, even though Taiwanese cricket would have been utterly scorned as a fourth-rate cricket power just a month or so earlier. This is because cricket is apparently still being played in that country and these fans, who are some of the most fanatical fans in the world, are suffering due to being deprived of watching live cricket matches. (I was surprised that Taiwan is allowing games during this time, even though the games are being played in empty stadiums with fans told to stay away.)
That is not all. Sports fans in the US are also looking to other forms of watching now that all the professional leagues have shut down. Those TV and internet channels that used to feature exclusively sports content are trying to find ways to retain their audiences. Streaming old games is not much of a solution since apparently that is expensive to do and also fans want to watch live games, not ones for which they already know the result.
So we now have weird innovations such as where top racing car drivers compete with each other on car racing video games or top basketball players have their online avatars compete with each other. There have even been complete computer baseball games between two teams of Major League Baseball where the ‘players’ from those teams performances are determined by AI algorithms. These contests come with excited sports commentary and many of the other rituals to give a flavor of the real thing.
On the program on April 10, On The Media host Bob Garfield discussed with producer Micah Loewinger and professor of media studies at Georgia Tech Ian Bogost about the various kinds of non-sports sports that have popped up to deal with sports addiction and fill sports TV time. and what this tells us about sports in the US. Garfield is incredulous, as am I, that these pseudo-sports are anything but novelty items whose appeal will wear off in a few minutes. But both of us seem to be underestimating the desperate need of sports addicts to satisfy their cravings and who will settle for any type of contest and these events seem to draw fairly good ratings.
Once again, it will be interesting to see the long-term impact of the shutdowns in this particular area of live ‘sports’. Once it is over, will we return to things just as they were before? Or will there be fundamental changes?
One possible change for the better may be the end of the charade of ‘amateur’ college football where students at the major football playing schools are recruited for their playing skills rather than academics and where they risk body and brain injury for no pay while the colleges benefit. If colleges continue in the online mode during the summer months when these football players are usually preparing for the fall season, there may not be a season at all. I for one will not be sorry. I have long argued that it is immoral for colleges to risk the health of their students in this way.