A Full Timeout
March 30, 2020

This story was written by Liam Ferrell and originally published in Maryland Today

From the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in California to Super Rugby’s Crusaders in Christchurch, New Zealand, teams across almost all sports and leagues have been sidelined indefinitely—a timeout that may have a positive side, according to a UMD expert.

As fans and media are left with a lack of live games, said David L. Andrews, a UMD kinesiology professor who studies the intersection of sport and politics, they have more space to examine the money and power structures that undergird big-time games, from the terms of player contracts to laid-off concessions workers.

“We haven’t got the glitzy spectacle,” he said. “What else is there to talk about?”

As the COVID-19 outbreak gripped the world, cornerstones of the sporting calendar, from the NCAA basketball tournaments and the Kentucky Derby to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, were delayed or canceled virtually overnight. While sports have been disrupted in the past, Andrews said the near dissolution at a moment’s notice is unprecedented.

Even during the world wars, he said, organized athletics continued to some degree because it was “part of the rhythm of everyday life. It was important that a sense of normality was maintained and, at least partially, this was realized through sport.” 

According to Andrews, the current crisis has laid bare the vastly disparate pay and conditions within high revenue-generating sports.

“The vulnerability in the system is at the lower end (for employees) without whom the sports industry simply could not function,” Andrews said.  

There is evidence, he said, of this now being recognized more broadly:

  • NBA players including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson and Blake Griffin said they are donating money to newly unemployed arena workers;
  • The owners of the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers announced (then quickly backtracked) a shortened workweek and 20% pay cut for employees.
  • In soccer’s English Premier League, Burnley F.C. committed to paying all of its workers through the current shutdown, scheduled to last through April 30.

But whether average sports fans will maintain any meaningful interest in the plight of low-paid sport industry workers is an open question.

“On resumption of the sporting calendar, the cultural and commercial weight behind celebrating sport as a form of uplifting Americana means that, in all probability, there won’t much space for such critical reflection,” Andrews said.

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David L. Andrews