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Until we meet again

Sports aren’t a matter of life and death, which is exactly what we need — and miss — right now

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge softball players Tory Bennett (left) and Bre Tjebben celebrate a 2018 victory during state softball at Rogers Park.

I miss sports.

Not for the reasons one may assume, though.

Sure, I long for the games. The performances. The excitement of competition.

I’d take the NCAA Tournament back in a heartbeat. A run-of-the-mill Major League Baseball slate would suit me fine. And I can just picture moving day at The Masters.

Locally, I’d love to juggle a typical Tuesday on the calendar — trying to fit track, soccer, tennis and golf coverage into our sports pages.

The absence of scores and highlights over the last three-plus weeks aren’t our biggest loss, however — at least not in my book.

We are still, even with rapid advancements in technology, social creatures by nature. We go to ballgames, attend meets and share moments.

Sports help fill our emotional needs, either by celebrating or commiserating with each other. The highs, the lows and everything in between.

Of course we all want our teams to win and the athletes we root for to succeed, but the psychological investment in the event itself is mainly why we sign up in the first place.

It’s an outlet. An escape. An excuse to gather with friends or family and make memories.

Now don’t get me wrong: having a little “time off” from the traditional sports grind was a relief of sorts at first. The schedule could be relentless; the pace, overwhelming.

But a rainout or two would suffice. Not this. Not a global pandemic that has disrupted our society’s ability to function. A situation that leaves not just the spring season, but plans for summer and even fall in doubt.

Long story short, COVID-19 is hitting the sports world where it hurts most. It’s taken away our ability to comfortably congregate. In arenas. At bars. Stadiums. Places that allow us to break free from the daily grind of work and responsibility, where we cheer on our schools and our squads and our favorite players.

We could really use that outlet right about now. The victories and championships were merely icing on the cake. The fight and the passion and the stories of hope, teamwork, unity and perseverance — through a much softer lens than the everyday, real-world struggle of this virus — would be the ultimate diversion, helping bring balance back to our world.

During both World Wars, sports still played a pivotal role in keeping morale high back home. It didn’t take long for baseball and football to return after the tragic loss on 9/11 — not because it was deemed essential compared to what we were going through as a country, but it served as a coping mechanism of sorts. And it also gave us reasons to assemble — shoulder to shoulder — laughing and crying and cheering and grieving and coping.

This virus doesn’t allow that. In fact, it’s literally impossible to physically battle next to fans or neighbors. I don’t know when we’ll get that back, and when we do, if it will ever be the same.

At the moment, the best we can do is appreciate what we had for so long. It’s been a remarkably uninterrupted run; something that was always there, on tap, whenever we wanted to feel it. Sports could lighten the mood. Inspire us. Frustrate us. Make us laugh. Make us cry. Make us love.

Whenever games and events do return — and they will, in some way, shape or form — our “new normal” should be filled with more thankfulness than ever before. We’ll take in the sights, the sounds and the smells, fully aware that none of this is promised.

And we’ll eventually do it together. More and more. Side by side. It may come in a much different package, but we’ll welcome it with open arms.

Because sports, once again, will be a microcosm of life. And that will mean the healing process has begun.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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