Ian Dempsey ‘21
The term “20/20” is used to express normal visual acuity measured at 20 feet. Despite the popularity of this trait, not one individual in the universe could have predicted what the year of 2020 had up its sleeves. While the coronavirus outbreak began in China, the effect of this pandemic didn’t reach the United States right away. The month of January went on as expected with no limitations anywhere throughout the sports world.
Two days into the new month of February, and the NFL was making headlines with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers competing against each other for Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. After an extremely prolonged drought of 50 years, the Chiefs finally won the Super Bowl once again by a score of 31-20.
After the tarps were set up in the locker room and bottles of champagne were exploded, the Chiefs had no awareness of something tragic occurring. Nor did the NBA and NHL as these leagues were not experiencing any stoppages in their regular seasons. Only two months were left in each sport’s season, with the push for the playoffs fast approaching, and there was absolutely no thought of a concept known as the bubble at this point.
Now over to the baseball diamond, as three weeks had passed since the big football contest and spring training was in full swing with games being played at both sites in Arizona and Florida. An abundance of hype was present for the 2020 MLB season, as many bright stars were grasping onto the surface and making a name for themselves.
However, the end of February brought numerous challenges. The coronavirus started to spread into the U.S. and left the sports world in a heaping pile of jeopardy. Unfortunately, St. Patrick's Day didn’t come quickly enough, as during the week of March 8-14, seasons were drastically being halted. The NBA was the first sports league to postpone its competition on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. Just 24 hours later, spring training was cancelled as well as the NHL deciding to take the precautions necessary and terminate play.
Not only did the professional level take a massive blow, but also college and high school spring sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse and track were wiped out entirely--just like that. Even college basketball’s March Madness tournament was dropped from the year’s festivities. With the rowdiest of crowds usually filling up arenas to yell and cheer on their team annually, not having this occurrence would just be one of the many events that would be altered partially or completely.
Nevertheless, flipping the script and moving over to college football, these men still had their minds set on improving their grade and position for the NFL Draft. Yes, despite all the
hindrances with crowds being eliminated, give a big welcome to Zoom, the communications platform enabling meetings over technological devices to take place through a cloud-based software system. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided to stream the draft from his own mancave as virtual screens of all the players waiting to be drafted and fans would be portrayed on the TV screen. Starting on April 23, the selection was underway with the Cincinnati Bengals picking Louisiana State University quarterback, 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, and college football champion Joe Burrow as the first pick of the NFL draft. A former Ohio State University prospect, he transferred to LSU because of his lack of playing time serving as the second string behind current Washington Football Team quarterback and 2019 first round draftee Dwayne Haskins Jr. Following this decision, the Washington Redskins selected OSU defensive end Chase Young with the second pick. The third pick of the draft went to the Detroit Lions, as they chose Jeff Okudah, a cornerback also from Ohio State. History was made with this selection, as it marked the first time the top three players in the draft all went to the same school.
Now you may notice a trend in the NFL that is widely shocking according to this one statistic. The total number of black players in the league has greatly increased over the past few years as currently, 70% of these athletes are black. In other words, the fact that almost 75% or three-quarters of the NFL is black prolongs further discussion. With racial issues still existing to this day, black athletes were able to use their exposure to establish awareness. Unfortunately, another nail was placed in the coffin when a young black male by the name of George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin on May 25. While Floyd was resisting arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill, Chauvin bent down on the ground and placed his knee on Floyd’s neck, choking him. Floyd was unable to get up from the road to breathe once more and as a result, died right there. Black athletes across the entire globe manipulated their social media platforms, displaying outrage and disgust with the actions that took place in Minnesota. Yet, social media can only do so much, as the next step for these prestigious figures was to respond in an impactful way that could be seen globally. By engaging in protests at the downtown areas of well-known cities, they were empowered to spread the word and demand that racial inequality and social injustice were huge issues in need of being solved. Densely populated cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and of course, Minneapolis, gained enormous TV coverage that went viral with these individuals marching up and down these streets. Chanting Black Lives Matter, or BLM, this movement sparked many more that would shortly follow the next couple months, expressing their freedom of speech in the best way.
Going back to the situation of the NBA with the protests starting to die down, who would have thought they could form an alliance and continue the suspended NBA season with Walt Disney World in Orlando?
Fast-forward to July, 2020, as this illusion became reality with the qualified 22 teams traveling from their respective home cities to the mysterious realm of Disney on July 7. With this agreement becoming official, the bubble was born into the world. Yet, the gigantic letdown of the bubble was the fact that nobody was allowed into the arena to watch the games as
the fans were cast on screens projected around the venue, acting like they were there live. With pool and spa services, golf courses, bowling, gaming areas and ping pong matches, barbers, and even bicycling, there were plenty of excursions that took place in Orlando. However, before all the fun began, they were required to endure upon daily virus testing when entering the facilities. A mask was enforced to be worn except when eating and exercising as well as Walt Disney’s “MagicBands,” which were watches that were displayed on one’s wrist when they completed their check-in. These “MagicBands” were used as a contact tracing mechanism in which they could restrict access to practice facilities and basketball courts if a player did not complete his health review on the app.
While all this action was being resumed, the bickering between the MLB owners and players had finally ended with their agreement to a shortened, 60-game season starting July 23. This was not the first time they went against each other, as it brought back shades of the 1994-1995 strike that lasted eight months. Caused by the owners’ proposal for a salary cap to be included in the next MLB collective bargaining argument and a revenue-sharing plan, the players forcefully declined. It was the first time since 1904, or 90 years, that the World Series was not played. Ultimately, both sides mutually reached an agreement to not include a salary cap. With regards to 2020, an immensely similar methodology was elicited. A total of 24 players opted out of the upcoming season because of concerns of the virus. Some of these names were comprised of former Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher and newcomer to the Los Angeles Dodgers David Price, reigning World Series champion with the Washington Nationals and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, who formerly played at Sarasota High School and with Zimmerman in Washington. With no fans at all in attendance, the scenery around the ballpark was nothing short of bizarre. That is not to mention no seeds, gum or pre-game fashion were allowed as players and coaches had to arrive dressed in full uniform.
One week later, the NHL was finally back in action, with players lacing up their skates. The format was one to remember though as 24 teams arrived in their own respective bubbles, those being in Toronto and Edmonton. This return-to-play plan certainly had some uniqueness to it as the top four teams in each conference would play a round robin tournament under regular season overtime rules to determine their seeds and then the format would resume as it usually is each year. Just like the NBA, no fans were permitted inside the venues, making the feel of these games awkward.
Back to the bubble, the structure of the plan approved for the bubble looked nothing short of ordinary. Under this plan, 13 Western Conference teams and nine Eastern Conference teams, all clubs within six games of a playoff spot, would play eight regular season seeding games. A possible play-in game for the eighth seed in each conference would be held if the ninth seed finished the regular season within four games of the eighth seed. In the case of the Western Conference, this play-in game featured the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies on Aug. 15, as the Trail Blazers won only to gain a short-lived spot. They lost the series 4-1 at the hands of the Lebron James-led Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Then, the Lakers took down the
Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets also in five games, getting to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
Before the Finals got under way though, focus was placed on the Stanley Cup Finals with the hometown Tampa Bay Lightning going against the Dallas Stars. The Lightning team was able to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins in five games and then eliminate the New York Islanders in six games. On the other hand, the Dallas Stars brushed off the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights. This matchup featured former Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, one of the franchise’s best protectors yet, and he was now sitting on the bench as the backup to veteran Anton Khudobin. The Lightning had found their new guy in Andrei Vasilevskiy as he was coming to the surface and ended up playing a crucial part in the series. With a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6, the Lightning needed one more win and got that with a 2-0 victory on Sept. 28. Hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004, they wished it could have been in front of 20,000 fans, but this was unavoidable.
In Orlando, the Lakers took the first two games, but the Heat stole Game 3 before they alternated the next two games to reach Game 6, the Lakers up 3-2. On Oct. 11, the Lakers defeated the Heat by a score of 106-93, winning their first championship in 10 years. Honoring the late and great Kobe Bryant, nicknamed The Black Mamba for his dominant shooting and slick handles on the court, there was absolutely nothing that felt better at that time. His death in January, 2020, was a shock heard everywhere around the world that nobody expected as a feel-good story was essential, and the Lakers came in clutch as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers. With their World Series defeat of the Tampa Bay Rays, the city of Los Angeles was back and overcame so many obstacles.
Many more things took place that weren’t even mentioned, yet to summarize, the year of 2020 will never be forgotten.