2020: The Year in Sports


Sebastian Buchman

The last twelve months have seen much hardship and adversity for society to overcome, and the world of sports, a reliable source of escapist entertainment, was silenced for months because of the global impact of COVID-19. 

Crowds in Oklahoma City were told to go home before the Thunder played the Jazz because Rudy Gobert contracted the virus. Teams were quarantined in their locker rooms, Gobert’s friendship with teammate Donovan Mitchell was tested, and fans walked out of the arena on the last day of the season until late July.

Fans have had a slow return to stadiums in some sports, and are still prohibited from attending others. Leagues had contractual disputes that forced games to be pushed back even further. The largest example of this was in the MLB, where owners and players did not come to an agreement until July, despite attempting to do so for months. Sports networks scrambled to find alternate programming, as video games of the sports themselves became prime time entertainment on ESPN and Fox Sports.

However, leagues continued on eventually, whether they played in a bubble environment, in home stadiums without fans, or with limited crowds cheering them on. Here are their stories.

The NBA may have had the most prolific year out of all of the leagues, as they lost David Stern, former commissioner, and the legendary Kobe Bryant within the first month of 2020. They were the first league to shut down because of COVID-19. Their sport was the most vocal about the racial tensions in America, even leading to games being postponed because of boycotts (as I wrote about earlier this year in this article). At the end of the 2020 playoffs at Disney World in Orlando, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were victorious as the Lakers won the Larry O’Brien Trophy. At this time, the NBA is currently amping up to begin the 2020-21 season at home arenas across North America.

The NFL has also made a multitude of headlines this season, mostly for all of the wrong reasons. COVID-19 has infiltrated the league, as games have been jeopardized by team-wide spread of the virus. Two infamous incidents include a Thanksgiving night game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore being moved to the following Wednesday and the Broncos’ entire quarterback trio being ruled out against New Orleans, leading to practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton getting the start at QB. At this time, the regular season is nearing its end and playoff contenders appear to include the Steelers, Chiefs, and Packers, as each conference features three wild card teams for the first time ever.

The MLB had a year that featured multiple instances of postponement of games leading to seasons ending with doubleheaders on most days for teams such as the Marlins, who missed several games early in the shortened season due to positive cases throughout the organization. The Marlins also made an impact by hiring the first female general manager in the offseason (as Katie Popp wrote about here). In the World Series, played at neutral site Globe Life Field, the gigantic salary Dodgers defeated the minuscule payroll Rays. Currently, the MLB is in the offseason.

The NHL had an interesting year, as players traveled to conference hubs in Edmonton and Toronto to play the postseason. The Blackhawks snuck into the expanded field and defeated the Oilers, one of many examples of the sport’s parity on the largest stage. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup, putting to rest the label of being “chokers” in the playoffs; they had been branded as such because they won the most regular season games in 2019, but still lost in the first round that season. Currently, negotiations are underway for the new season to begin in January, but all of the details have not yet been resolved.

Overall, throughout this year, our lives have been heavily altered, and sports were no different. However, similarly to society in general, it does seem like there is a light at the end of the tunnel for sports returning to a more regular routine, as leagues seem to be moving away from bubble formats and back to home arenas. In some instances, fans are also returning in smaller numbers. 2021 should hopefully be a continuation of the progress made since March, but, as we learned in 2020, nothing is for certain.