While the Covid-19 crisis has left a gaping hole in the sports world, with the NBA suspending their season indefinitely and all other sports following suit, Americans have shifted their sights to the sports content on TV.
One of these was “The Last Dance,” a miniseries co-produced by ESPN and Netflix about Michael Jordan’s basketball career, which placed a sizable focus on his last season with the Chicago Bulls. While the series is not set to be on Netflix until mid-July, sports fans with TV subscriptions were able to revel at the new series coming out just in time for social distancing and stay-at-home orders. It even brought good ratings to ESPN in a time where sports aren’t being played.
ESPN and other sports networks have replaced their programming with sports documentaries and classic games, which are enjoyable to watch in moderation. An episode of 30 for 30 can keep my attention for a bit, as can an old Cleveland Browns game.
Still, screaming at the television in support of your favorite sports team (or cursing your least favorite) in real time sounds nice right about now. Cheering in a stadium, at a gym, or in the bleachers at a baseball diamond would be incredible, and May without baseball just doesn’t feel right. While there isn’t much to do other than mourn the static status of sports right now, there are other sports-related outlets to be explored.
One way I have kept the euphoric feeling of screaming at a television alive is by cheering on my favorite underdogs in sports dramas. Whether it’s Lucas Scott in “One Tree Hill” or Matt Saracen in “Friday Night Lights,” these dynamic characters and their stories on and off the field/court have helped get me through the 2020 sports drought. I have rewatched both of these series several times as an avid sports drama fan myself, but now is especially a good time to indulge.
Shows like "One Tree Hill" and "Friday Night Lights," as well as The CW’s 2018 football drama “All American,” satisfy viewers’ needs for a compelling narrative, relatable characters, and energetic television scenes. Watching a team you followed from your couch for an entire season win the coveted championship makes for a great viewing experience - especially when you get to watch them also deal with real-world issues which impact their playing abilities and escalate their cause to celebrate.
I can’t help but notice the lack of similar series, especially from platforms like Netflix and Hulu, which create their own content with lesser restrictions. Sports are often just features of teen dramas like Riverdale, and audiences can get compelling action scenes from superhero shows like Arrow and Gotham, but I still find myself desiring more - more about the lessons inherent in sports about self-discipline, teamwork, and strength, more inspirational quotes like “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose,” and more coverage of the issues average Americans face.
The appeal in sports dramas, then, isn’t just to fill the void in the sports world left by Covid-19, but also to continue instilling the values that Americans hold dear: hard work, compassion, and perseverance. Audiences want to see developed characters “win the game and win the girl,” to succeed on and off the field, to navigate heavy personal issues while maneuvering around opponents on the field/court. These fictional sports stories and characters and the lessons they taught helped me navigate many difficult parts of life, including this new era of social isolation.
Our television platforms and networks should consider producing more sports dramas and sports-related content, especially as we transition to subscription-based platforms like Netflix and Hulu. "One Tree Hill" and "Friday Night Lights" are each one-of-a-kind shows, but they haven’t taken up the market; I’m sure the American public would be open to a show about baseball or softball (a television rendition of “A Field of Our Own,” maybe?), a show about volleyball, or another about basketball or football. They would be open to seeing how the sports world operates in the Midwest as opposed to coastal states and Texas. Americans may want to see a drama series about a competitive marching band, or an underrated sport like lacrosse. There is still so much in the sports world to explore creatively, and acknowledging today’s sports drought may push creators to make it happen.
I would be more than willing to watch a Netflix Original about football, basketball, softball/baseball, or lacrosse, especially now. I can make a safe bet that most Americans, especially sports fans, would agree.
As the pandemic wreaks havoc on the TV programming calendar, it may leave some holes open to be filled in the future; perhaps sports dramas can rise up and fill them. It would be naive to think any new material can be produced in the coming months while citizens and actors alike social distance, but at some yet unknown time period where some “normalcy” returns, revamping the entertainment industry may be a possible scenario. Viewers deserve a show as strong and promising as "Friday Night Lights" in the post-coronavirus media atmosphere of the 2020’s.