2020 reminded us that the show mustn’t always go on. Disrupted by the coronavirus, sports stopped cold three months in and then started up again in emptied-out stadiums, stumbling, skidding and finally staggering across the finish line — all the while shadowed by loss.
Celebrations were muted, crowd noise was piped-in and dozens of games were canceled at the last minute even as the sports industry hemorrhaged jobs. Facing increasingly long odds, some mega-events — the Olympics, March Madness, the Boston Marathon and Wimbledon — pushed the starting line into 2021. Those were hardly the only dislocations.
Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in late January, and the toll of beloved figures we mourned kept mounting — Diego Maradona, Don Shula, John Thompson and Bob Gibson, among others — until Phil Niekro passed away two days after Christmas. But those moments of unity lasted only so long. Straining under the combined weight of a pandemic and a nationwide reckoning on race, the last few bricks in the wall between sports and politics crumbled and fans and athletes quickly chose sides — take Naomi Osaka, for one, who used her U.S. Open-winning run to speak out on racial injustice.