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Beyond The Game

Reality check: No more fun and games

Difficult time for old man whose life has revolved around sports
By Ken Waltz | Mar 17, 2020

One of my University of Maine journalism professors, not a sports fan or of those who aspired to be writers of the genre, amused himself and infuriated me when he often disrespectfully referred to newspaper sports sections as "The Toy Department."

Well, thanks to the stark reality of life during a pandemic, all the toys have been put away and the fun and games have ceased.

"The Toy Department," for all intents and purposes, is closed for business.

Real life has made our sports-obsessed culture irrelevant — at least for the foreseeable future.

Due to the ongoing global health concerns over COVID-19, or coronavirus, the wide world of sports has been put on hold and that has thrown people like me into a weird, unfamiliar, strange and uncomfortable place.

We have descended into a surreal portal and the world we knew is a much different place — a freaky place full of new, unfamiliar, but so real, stresses.

Society as we have known it is shutting down.

With professional, college, high school and even youth sports rightly being sidelined to get a handle on this scary health issue, I have found myself out of sorts, wondering what to do personally and professionally.

For nearly all of my 60 years, my personal existence has revolved around playing, coaching, officiating, watching or reading about sports.

For 37 of those trips around the sun, my professional existence, my job, my chosen career, my daily, weekly, monthly and yearly grind, has revolved around the ebbs and flows of Midcoast sports.

Now, a dangerous little virus one cannot see without a microscope, that, by all accounts, made the jump to humans from animals in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China a world away, has brought all of us — including the country's most revered and powerful athletes — to our knees.

For the foreseeable future, there will be no more National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, NASCAR, March Madness and Frozen Four games, or Professional Golf Association tournaments (no Masters in April, what?), to keep me company as I sit fat, happy and satisfied in front of my 75-inch, 4K, wall-mounted flatscreen television.

No more random tennis, soccer, horse racing, figure skating, ski racing, gymnastics or rodeos television programming (although pro wrestling somehow goes on). No more XFL to whet my insatiable football appetite.

I am not going to lie, I feel a bit lost. A little out of sorts. I am not sure what to do with my down time. The newly-freed hours.

Oh, I read, watch other television programs (I have Netflix and a gazillion channels from DirectTV), exercise, keep myself busy and even occasionally talk to my wife, Sarah, but this is so very, very hard. I miss — I need — my special sports blanket.

It is my life's pacifier.

Sports are my escape. My journey to virtual reality.

I need to watch the daily competition, the updates, who is sitting out tonight's game for load management, how will the Boston Red Sox ever come up with five starting pitchers, who will win the Masters and will the Boston Bruins win the President's Cup?

And now, none of it matters.

All questions left meaningless by something in the air, on surfaces, in our bodies waiting to wreck havoc. Why? It makes no sense to me.

Please let us wake up from this global health nightmare? Make it all stop.

Someone please come up with a vaccine, magic pill, potion, incantation or a way to sanitize the entire earth and let us get back to normalcy.

I know this is serious stuff. I fully realize people are getting seriously sick and a percentage are dying from this scourge upon our biological species. I know, at my age, and with asthma and other lung-related issues, I am a prime candidate to possibly not make it out the other side if I get sick with coronavirus. That, of course, concerns me.

I am sensitive to how important it is for all of us to do our due diligence. To wash our hands. To practice social distancing. To be kind and helpful to one another. To be supportive. To not be irrational food or toilet paper hoards.

All that we do and have been instructed to do by doctors, scientists and the center for disease control are necessary to get to the other side of this, even if it means, sadly, there is no conclusion to the pro basketball and hockey seasons, the continuation of golf tournaments or even the start of college and high school spring seasons.

This virus has had an unbelievable and historic financial, emotional and health impact on society, education, business, families and individuals — as well as a tangible affect on athletes of all ages and at all levels in the Midcoast.

I am aware of all of this and that is why I want to magically snap my fingers and make it go away.

I want to hear the inane sports talk show heads speculate endlessly about where Tom Brady will play next year (he announced on social media that he is not returning to the Patriots, and I assume he will land with the Buccaneers or Chargers in the near future), can the Celtics make a serious postseason push, are the Bruins ready to challenge for another Stanley Cup and can the Sox surprise us all and not ruin our summer?

I cannot take another look back at the 1986 Celtics or the Big Bad Bruins of the 1970s. I do not need to rewatch the NBA slam dunk contest from 1980 or the U.S. Open golf tournament from 2002. I need fresh sports entertainment content on my gaudy television set.

I want to be back out in the world watching children and adults playing the sports they love. Creating lifelong friendships and memories. Striving to reach their potential. Going for it. Having fun.

When your entire existence, the very fiber of your soul, has been sports 24-7 for a lifetime, it is so tough to turn off the switch.

I miss my sports. They have filled a space in my heart and mind. They scratch my itch. They have, of course, stressed me out and made me an emotional wreck at times, but also made me one with the universe. And, in the end, always given me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I need sports to keep me engaged and relaxed. To give my life meaning. To feel whole. I do not like facing reality 24-7. It is too harsh. Too unkind. Too real. Too sobering. Too scary.

I need my sports binky to soothe my savage beast. Will someone bring back my toys because this big old baby is about to throw an epic tantrum.

Do not misinterpret my words. I would never make light of our sobering health situation, but would, indeed, make fun of my lifelong obsession with sports and how forced withdrawals is a tough state of being.

As I have discovered, the terrible 60s are a difficult time for grumpy old men — especially when someone takes away their cherished sports.

Give them back to me now, damn it. And after you do, get off my lawn.

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