In Search of Sports During a Pandemic

With the professional and collegiate playing fields shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, sports media on television and radio has scrambled to fill the vacuum in the absence of real news.

A plethora of virtual competitions have populated some sports featuring professionals in basketball, cycling  and auto racing, among others, competing online via avatars and/or third-party action figures.

Last weekend, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson unintentionally made the most of the content void by becoming the headline for all the wrong reasons. He was suspended by NASCAR and subsequently fired by his team for using the ‘N’-word during a virtual racing event. Larson, who is half Japanese and entered stockcar racing through a diversity program, was recorded using the slur during a live-streamed iRacing tournament on the Twitch game platform. He has apologized for his gaffe.

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In Clemson, S.C., radio banter about the future college football season  and possible impact COVID-19 could have on the former national champion Tigers’ season was derailed after severe thunderstorms moving through parts of the Southeast on April 12 left one dead and a path of destruction in nearby Seneca.

On ESPN, on-air talent was greeted April 13 with news of across-the-board 15% pay cuts as the Disney-owned pay-TV channel said the company would weather the pandemic as a team. It surely beat the furloughs handed out to more than 70,000 employees at Disney’s amusement parks.

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ESPN, which has spearheaded the pandemic content hole with re-broadcasts of classic sports match-ups, dug deep on Sunday with a seven-hour Scripps National Spelling Bee marathon telecast. The event featured the 1997, 2004 and 2008 championships, including each year’s winning words: Euonym (name well suited to the person, place, or thing named); Autochthonous (an indigenous inhabitant of a place); and Guerdon (a reward or recompense).

To the non-fan, last year’s championship featured an historic eight co-champions, including seven Indian-Americans. The 2020 competition, originally slated for May, will return in 2021.

ESPN on April 19 at 9 p.m. ET begins 10-part documentary, “The Last Dance,” featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty through the lens of their final championship season in 1997-98.

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