Sports have for so long brought people together, on and off the field. Whether it’s watching Sunday football with your friends, or even your own team's season — tearing it up yourself on the soccer field, we can all agree sports unite us.

How have we managed to keep this unity within athletics and where does it leave those who rely on it for their jobs, mental health, friends or otherwise?

Professional Sports and Fans

Large sports associations like the National Football League (NFL) ​ and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have established intense COVID-19 safety protocols in order to continue practicing and competing.

The NFL for example, requires masks for all players while traveling or while inside team buildings. They even started a video monitoring system to make sure players are wearing them. Each player is tested for COVID every day before practice, and the schedule has been adjusted to avoid playing teams with spikes in cases.

These schedule adjustments may even push back the Superbowl another four weeks as many of the teams have had a spread of the virus among players. While the teams will, hopefully, play as usual with the addition of masks during the game, they most likely will do so without a stadium full of fans cheering them on. 

This means no father-son football games and no Sunday football parties with friends. Those small gatherings that do occur to cheer on one's favorite football team must endure the silence in the stadiums on the screen.

The NBA used this as an opportunity to provide virtual tickets and have a virtual fan base similar to that which would be seen in a basketball stadium. This may be one of the reasons the COVID spread in the NBA was virtually nonexistent. To deal with the pandemic, the NBA also created what is called the ‘NBA Bubble.’ This, quite literally, is a bubble in Orlando, Florida, that houses all of the NBA players (some could opt out) for those teams that are still in contention for the playoffs. Only those who have been tested could enter the bubble and once a team was no longer in the running, the players were free to leave.

Major League Soccer (MLS) used the bubble technique as well, which worked just as well as the NBA Bubble. It may then be confusing as to why the MLS decided to move the season to outside the bubble walls and incorporate fans back into the stadiums. Many are worried that this will reverse all of the work put into the health of the athletes and fans and undermine any improvements made by this quarantine. That being said, some fans may be elated to see their favorite soccer team in person.

University Sports and Athletes

Colleges and universities saw the same worries and issues, but moved quickly to adapt to these changes as they came.

RIT, for example, cancelled all winter sports competitions for the 2020–21 season due to the rise in COVID cases. Certain fall sports had already been cancelled previously, such as RIT Crew's entire fall season. For Crew, even when practices are held, they’re extremely different than pre-pandemic.

Brianna Young, a fourth year Graphic Design major, discussed some of the differences she experienced this past semester.

“It’s been a lot of on-our-own practices ... then we got into small teams and did group work over Zoom,” Young said. “And when we did practice in person, we were only allowed to practice outside, so it was rain or shine.”

Young also detailed that there were some extra safety precautions all members had to follow while practices were held in person.

 “I keep having this thought like… I don’t know if I am ever going to row again.”

Not every sport is able to take all of these precautions, however. Isaiah Barnes, a third year Psychology major and receiver for his football team, discussed the added safety his team experienced throughout their season. The team always wore masks, limited the amount of people in certain areas, did not hold in-person team meetings and pushed for increased cleanliness.

“I never realized how gross we were, until we had to clean up after everything we did,” Barnes said.

But increased cleanliness only helped so much throughout the season. Multiple COVID cases were found and quarantines throughout the team spread like wildfire. All the while, there was a greater pandemic occurring in these teams. Due to all of these extra precautions, cancelled practices and moved seasons, athletes were losing that key social component that kept them motivated and united with each other.

A Loss of Unity

Participating in a sport not only keeps you fit physically and socially, it forces you to take it into consideration through most of the choices you make throughout the day.

Young detailed how Crew has increased her awareness of her sleeping schedule, the food she puts into her body and her hydration levels. It also helps to keep her on top of her school work so she doesn’t stress over practices.

“It’s definitely helped with my confidence and believing in myself, pushing myself past what I thought I could do,” Young said.

Barnes said similar things, stating that football influences everything he does outside of the sport as well. And for both of these students, the change to each sporting season has been quite a difficulty and stressor in addition to everything else happening right now. They don't get to experience the parts of the sport that make all the stress worth it.

“It’s been crazy stressful, training has been so drug out,” Barnes said. “It’s been hard to find motivation.”

Finding motivation is difficult without the help of teammates and many are upset that they haven’t been able to spend their time doing what they enjoy.

“It’s just upsetting because I’m graduating this year,” Young said. “I keep having this thought like… I don’t know if I am ever going to row again.”

Young voices what a lot of fans and athletes are feeling: a fear of going into the unknown, alone.