As we approach nearly a one year anniversary of our world shutting down and our lives changing drastically, it isn’t a bad idea to take a second and reflect on how far we have come and how things are so much different than March 2020.
For one, it is exciting that we actually have sports going on and there are championships being played. It seems like the country is heading toward herd immunity and a vaccination is being made widely available to the public. But there are certainly still things that stink and there are constants that we have to live with that are so different from the way we lived our lives just 365 days ago.
In the realm of sports, fans are a major subject of these conversations. Many states have opened the floodgates to allowing fans back in the crowd and it isn’t necessarily something that is all that new. We saw fans at golf events last summer, we saw fans at the World Series last October. When the NFL kicked off in Kansas City on a September night in 2020, plenty of fans were in the stands. Just this past weekend at the Australian Open, they were going to have a filled stadium until one positive test halted things, probably for the best.
It is clear that as you look around the different leagues and the different states that Oregon is slow to the punch when it comes to getting some normalcy in the sports world. The whole Pacific Northwest has taken a very conservative approach to how and when they will reopen operations for their fans and it is understandable why but also seems a bit unfair in the grand scheme of things.
As the Portland Trail Blazers go to Miami or to Dallas and now even to New York, it seems odd that all these teams are welcoming fans into their stands and creating some sort of true home-court advantage yet again but it is not happening in Portland.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out and the NBA season was halted, Damian Lillard was actually asked about playing in front of fans and what his thoughts were on playing without them. At the time, this was such a weird thing to ponder as it really wasn’t something we were typically used to seeing.
“If there’s no fans, they might as well drive up here and let’s play in the practice facility,” Lillard continued. “Instead of just going to the arena and playing in an empty arena, let’s just play in our practice uniforms. If you can’t sell tickets, what does that mean? Are you going to have a TV game with nobody there, how does that work?”
Lillard made a lot of good points. At the time, it was crazy to think that leagues, especially the NBA, would take the financial hit of having no fans. And while these players love the money and love their jobs, fans are a big part of the reason why they suit up night after night and play with intense pressure. Lillard said those things thinking that there was no way there would be an NBA season without fans and he was proven wrong. But those words he said were passionate and so I wonder know how he feels that as fans around the league are allowed in other stadiums, he is still stuck playing in front of a few monitors, in an empty arena where you must be able to hear every single word the announcers are saying about you.
Others were not as intense when the news of no fans broke. Terry Stotts played it cool and he probably reacted the right way for a coach to respond.
“That is a decision for the league to make and whatever decision they make, we’ll abide by it,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts about the possibility of playing games without fans. “If it gets to that, we’ll do as we’re told.”
But now almost a year later, it feels like the Blazers are just at a disadvantage when it comes to not having fans inside the arena. If you visit the Blazers official team site, here is what they say under their FAQ section for “when will fans be allowed back in the arena?”
“We are working closely with public health officials to determine a timeline for fans to return to Moda Center, which has not been determined at this time. We are optimistic that conditions will improve as the season moves forward.”
Of course, the franchise is not the one calling the shots and it all goes back to leaders in Oregon who are making the decisions and this is a sports column and not a political one so we will leave it at that. But as we head closer to herd immunity and more and more stadiums around the country allow fans back into them, it really does seem a little ridiculous that the Blazers are not getting the same respect.
Let’s not forget about teams like Oregon and Oregon State who are also dealing with this. And of course, when baseball season starts up or the NFL comes back around in August, we have to ask ourselves, will the Mariners and the Seahawks have to deal with this in Washington state? There are a ton of questions and unfortunately, there are not a ton of answers to be given right now.
I hope that one day very soon we can pack these stadiums to the brim and that true normalcy returns.