I thought our little world of sports would be different in 2021, but I was wrong.
I figured once the severest effects of the pandemic had lessened, things would be more back to normal. That hasn’t been the case.
I was convinced that athletes and fans would be so grateful the worst might be over, that we might be returning to a kind of golden times.
Instead, we have experienced horrendous fan behavior. Athletes have been assaulted by a variety of methods. Those who play the games have raised the issue of mental health. And in the most recent incident, a professional golfer, on the brink of winning a significant tournament, and ready to cash in monetarily big time, saw it all disappear in a blink of an eye.
Jon Rahm, one of the young giants who has emerged on the Tour, was ready to sail home with a huge victory at the Memorial, Jack Nicklaus’ tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Rahm, was riding a solid-stroke lead after a record-tying 54-hole total.
While we can never assume victory, even with what Rahm had accomplished, it was more likely than not that the final round would be a coronation for the colorful Spaniard.
But Jon Rahm was forced to withdraw from the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19.
It was a crushing sight to see Rahm being informed coming off the 18th green in the third round that he failed the test and wouldn’t be permitted to finish.
The Tour wouldn’t comment on whether he was fully vaccinated, and two weeks removed from a completed dose, or asymptomatic, or whether he could play solo on the final day.
Without getting into more detail on this, the fact is, it was a stunning and sad development.
Something we thought might be in our rear view mirror.
The story surrounding the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka from the French Open was another tale relating to a world which is not necessarily new.
But the story certainly is.
Osaka, 23, who has had spectacular success on the tennis court and in her pocket book, took herself out of one of the sport’s grand slam events, after an incident involving the news media.
Osaka, refused to honor her obligation to appear before the press and answer questions from reporters.
She was not rated a favorite on the Roland Garros red clay, and when she failed to face the media, she knew she would be penalized in the form of a fine.
Instead, Osaka was threatened with suspension, and in answer to that, withdrew entirely.
She talked about her concern for her mental health, anxiety and depression. She would be going home to deal with it.
The subject of an athlete’s mental health is not new, it is a significant aspect to an athlete’s being, and most of the time swept under the rug.
But this is the first time the subject emanated out of facing reporters’ questions.
It has been apparent to THIS reporter, that the media doesn’t hold back when it comes to their queries ( nor should they be by any means).
We’ve also seen the athletes reply in several ways. Some harsh, some enlightening, some in total avoidance.
I’ve always believed that anyone being interviewed in any field, has the option of shutting down the subject of the questioner. See: Bill Belichick.
But the Naomi Osaka story was clearly uncomfortable, and novel, in any event.
I’m saving the worst for last. Not that the stories surrounding Jon Rahm and Naomi Osaka are insignificant. They are.
But the conduct of some fans, who are now allowed back in arenas and stadiums, has become disgraceful.
Focusing on the NBA, where the action on the court has been nothing short of thrilling, there has been a serious problem.
It’s about those who have felt entitled to shout obscenities at players, ruining the experience for the performers, as well as the fans who are in the stands for the right reasons.
It’s about those who think nothing of throwing debris on the court, aimed at showing monumental disrespect and even causing physical harm.
Worse still, it’s about those who abuse players racially and personally.
That happened to the family of Ja Morant, the star of the Utah Jazz on his home court in Salt Lake City.
In May, Russell Westbrook had a container of popcorn tossed on him, leaving the court after Wizards-Sixers playoff game.
Trae Young, of the Atlanta Hawks, heard a barrage of invective chants throughout the entire playoff game between the Hawks and the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One brave fan even spit on his back.
A member of the Knicks revealed a fan hurled a cup of beer at the team’s bench.
Kyrie Irving avoided a water bottle thrown in his direction after a Nets-Celtics contest.
There’s more, but the message is clear.
There is a sense that fans, who are now unleashed into sporting events, feel they are free to conduct themselves in any manner.
They are in a crowd and they act in cowardly fashion.
This isn’t about ALL the fans, just the few who cast a pall on the return of sporting events we were supposed to celebrate, not ruin.
Disagree if you like, but what I am seeing is an extension of what we’ve witnessed in our wonderful country the past year.
Things have to change.