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David Zurawik: Pro sports on TV are disappointing in the virus era

David Zurawik: Pro sports on TV are disappointing in the virus era

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Chiefs begin title defense with 34-20 victory over Texans (copy)

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes as he is pressured by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt in the first half of an NFL football game on Thursday, Sept. 10, in Kansas City, Mo. 

With the return of the National Football League to Sundays, sports are back on TV in a major way. Waking up to College GameDay on ESPN Saturday and The NFL GameDay on the NFL Network Sunday, the first post-Labor-Day weekend promised a return to some sense of normalcy for someone who grew up with and loved TV sports as I have.

The rhythms of television are the rhythms of American life, and the seasons of sport are at the heart of that cultural marriage. Thanksgiving and football on TV. Spring and opening day baseball on TV. New Year’s and college bowl games on TV. You get the picture.

But once again, TV sports haven’t delivered anything more than a momentary distraction for me.

I say once again because I tried watching baseball. But the telecasts felt downright eerie at times with analysts appearing in little boxes from places beyond the ballpark. They could have been watching on a monitor on Mars. They felt no more intimately connected to the game than I was — not surprising since they were watching in some cases from their living rooms just like me.

I hated the piped in crowd noise and cardboard cutouts instead of human beings in the seats. It reminded me of the artifice being used by Major League Baseball to even be playing during the pandemic and all the players who had tested positive for COVID-19 — with some of the results kept from the public.

I tried watching the NBA as well. The telecasts were a little better once the producers figured out that if they kept a tight shot on the court, viewers might momentarily forget the athletes were living and playing in a Disney bubble in Florida. A Disney bubble in Florida — talk about artifice.

I even tried golf, and for most of my life, I hated golf. I’m not that crazy about it now, but I have to say golf has adapted best to the TV realities of a COVID-19 world. I don’t miss the galleries all that much, and I love looking at all that beautiful green landscaping.

I have no major complaints about the CBS Sports announcers or producers of Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens game against the Cleveland Browns. But I won’t watch another minute of college or professional football this fall outside of what my job requires. Doing so lends credence to the false perception the White House is trying to sell that the pandemic is behind us. It isn’t, and the more we embrace that lie, the more Americans will die.

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