IMHO: Panic not, sports world will return to normal

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/14/2020 10:33:09 PM
Modified: 3/14/2020 10:33:07 PM

The biggest difference between Europe and the United States doesn’t come down to culture or economics or anything like that. I’ve found it’s sports.

The missus and I enjoyed a two-week vacation to the Old World a few Thanksgivings ago, hitting France, Netherlands, Germany and Belgium before returning home. It was strange for me walking by Parisian restaurants or Cologne beer houses and seeing Champions League soccer matches on at night, if only because I’ve always associated them with afternoon viewing (and office loafing) here.

Beyond that, however, were the spaces in between. When soccer was done, it might have been two or three days — or more — before another noteworthy athletic event came around. There appeared to be no 24-hour buzz of sports hovering somewhere unseen and endlessly debated. I spent one evening researching Cologne’s professional hockey team on my computer, only to realize it was on a lengthy break from action at the time. That would never happen here, where we can sit down at pretty much anytime and find a game to watch on the tube or web.

At least we could until Thursday, when coronavirus shut the sports world down.

As someone who has covered, written or talked about sports for more than 30 years, I find myself in unusual territory. With the cancellation of Dartmouth College’s spring sports and the cessation — temporarily, at least — of NHIAA and VPA high school activity, I’m woefully low on the one thing that gives my work life meaning.

When you’re a sports editor and there are no sports, what do you do to fill the pages?

At a time such as this, it’s important to remember that there’s much more to what these spaces represent than just what happens between the lines. Games are the easiest thing to cover, since they’re scheduled, regimented, consistent and produce a different story line every time, just as a snowstorm delivers a sky full of unique snowflakes.

Without games, the human element now takes center stage. For instance, what happens to Dartmouth seniors who were ready to hit the diamond, return to the lacrosse field, do laps on a track for one final campaign, only to have that opportunity ripped away? Athletes from five Upper Valley girls basketball teams and two boys teams hit a full stop in the midst of state tournaments; will they ever be able to end their seasons’ journeys? In some cases, no. In others, I don’t know.

A few days ago, I counted myself among the skeptics who felt that panic and paranoia were driving the coronavirus debate. The first salvo was the Ivy League’s decision to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. I initially felt the move came with a callous disregard to athletes who had spent their years, and careers, trying to reach what — for the Ivies — is a rare level of excellence in the form of NCAA play.

As I’ve come to understand the debate a little better, I’m not as adamant about the priority being these athletes, both college and high school, getting their moments. They do deserve it, and I want to see them have that opportunity. But given the need to ease burdens on hospitals and health-care workers, make virus tests more available and avoid spreading the sickness farther, sacrificing seasons and tournaments — as painful it was to choose, as more painful it was for those who had to deliver the news — made sense.

Keep in mind, also, that we’ve been in this situation before, asking ourselves of the point of games at a time when life and death were much more important. We came out of it just fine.

Remember that, for a week and a half in September 2001, professional and college sports shut down out of respect for the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. It didn’t seem appropriate at the time to be using our evenings to support our teams at a time when the nation had been attacked in an act of war. It wasn’t.

When sports returned, they did so gloriously. There is little worth praising about George W. Bush’s presidency, but I’ve always felt he handled the gradual return to normalcy well through baseball, given his affinity for the game and ties to it.

Europeans — at least the ones I met a few years ago — don’t seem to be as addled by sports as Americans can be. They seem to have elements of their lives that fill the gaps in between kickoffs or tackles or goals.

Be it two weeks, a month, longer, we who live for sports now have the chance to see what else there is for us in between. Go for a walk outside. When the golf courses open, play. Find a tennis court once it’s dry and knock the ball around.

Most of all, be patient.

The games will be back soon enough. Our normal will be close behind.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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