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Penn State Football: Now More Than Ever, Sports A Luxury Not To Be Taken Lightly

by on October 19, 2020 4:00 PM

Numbers, especially large numbers, are hard to visualize. Imagine 100 people in front of you right now. What does that look like? You might be able to create a general picture in your mind, but it's fuzzy around the edges, a rough guess at an emotion that just boils down to whatever your brain has decided “a lot” looks like.

The bigger the number, the harder it becomes to truly comprehend. You can open a book and read that the deepest known point in the ocean is nearly seven miles under the water, but it’s impossible to really grasp the scope of such a depth.

So we start to think of things in units we can -maybe- understand. That the deepest point in the ocean could fit 19 World Trade Centers stacked end-to-end, something we can anchor in our head to a number otherwise too big to imagine.

In turn, I’ve been thinking of the pandemic and 210,000 people who have died so far from COVID-19. Or if you rather, two entirely full Beaver Stadiums worth of people. And yes, I am fully aware that some of you will arrive pitchforks raised to argue -for whatever reason- that deaths related to preexisting conditions shouldn’t count, or that old people aren’t really people, or that hospitals are lying for funding or any of the various ways some of us have decided to conflate bad things into not being real, but those people are dead. That's a fact.

Two entire Beaver Stadiums worth.

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It's fitting that Penn State will play in an almost entirely empty stadium this week and for the weeks to follow. It's a very tangible reminder that this pandemic hasn’t ended, that these issues haven’t suddenly evaporated just because we really wanted them to. The fact of the matter is sports aren’t happening because they are a fundamental requirement of making our society function -certainly there are societal benefits of playing- but they’re happening because of money and a desire to shut our eyes and make bad things go away because we don't like how they make us feel. Right or wrong, it is what it is.

The result is what we have today, the luxury of sports in a world that does not have the luxury of pretending things are normal. I’ve never been one to say sports should stay away from politics, generally I think politics in sports is a worthwhile venture. That aside, there is truth to the argument that sports are an escape from all the bad things and life-related stresses. Free throws don’t remind you of healthcare and touchdowns don’t make you think about racsim. For a few hours, everything is fine.

Except everything isn’t.

It will be weird wearing a mask to a game, it will be weird looking out as Penn State and Indiana take the field and not have my drink in the press box shaking as the crowd roars and the stadium shudders. It will be strange to do interviews from a video chat, odd to avoid my coworkers who I so deeply enjoy being around. Nothing was, as Drake once said, the same.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Penn State might be good, it might lose to Indiana and Ohio State. It might find out that the crowds are truly the X-Factor or it might rise to the moment and surprise everyone. The Nittany Lions are most certainly talented but they are not without questions in need of answering or flaws needing to be addressed. They are not 2017, they aren’t late 2016, they simply are to be determined. And determined they will have to be during a season like this.

There is no overarching big picture argument to be made here, no endorsement or criticism to throw at the end of these thoughts. People will have their voices heard soon enough, mine and yours among them. From there we will march forward towards something unknown, but for the sake of us all, hopefully better than it has been.

That said, it’s worth remembering as you yell at your TV and politely suggest to James Franklin what he should do next, that we’re all fortunate to be watching any of this. Sports have always been a luxury, and they’ve never been a luxury more than they are right now.

Because two Beaver Stadiums worth of people -and counting- are dead.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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