Column: WNBA draft proves sports still bring joy even in dark times

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

For many who watched last night’s WNBA draft, it was not only a virtual experience where 36 of the world’s top women’s basketball players recognized a lifelong dream of getting drafted into the pros.

It was another much-needed escape from our tragic, sad, heartbreaking, virus filled world we are dealing with.

Even in the absence of live sports, the WNBA draft still provided something that is at the heart of why we are fans in the first place. Sports provide joy. Sports provide excitement. Sports provide happiness and at their best, sports have the power to unite.

Last night, we experienced the joy first hand of young women who have worked their entire lives to reach the pros. Sabrina Ionescu getting drafted by the New York Liberty was the culmination of years of hard work. The same applies to Satou Sabally to the Dallas Wings as it does to Lauren Cox of the Indiana Fever to Chennedy Carter of the Atlanta Dream and everyone else who heard their names called last night.

The reactions of many of the draftees we saw last night who had mobile draft parties told a great story. It is very similar to what we see on Selection Monday or Sunday when a college team hears its name chosen to be part of the NCAA tournament. The jubilation from that team’s players, coaches, staff and fans that they will be part of March Madness.

Sadly, the once-in-a-lifetime atrocity that is Covid-19 robbed that from this group of college athletes – and it is something that will be a permanent mark on their careers for the rest of their lives.

But that is what the draft reminded us of. The emotion we saw from Megan Walker’s family, from Ruthy Hebard’s family, from Bella Alarie’s family and from Jocelyn Willoughby herself were not only well-warranted, but it was well-deserved as we are all living out, collectively, one of the saddest periods of our lives.

It also confirmed something else – the undue value that sports have.

We miss the ball fields. We miss the basketball courts. We miss the soccer pitches. We miss the golf courses. We miss the football fields. We miss the hockey ice. We miss the softball diamonds. We miss the baseball diamonds. We miss the volleyball sands. Not only do we miss these things, but we yearn for them.

Those athletes yearn for those fields of play too – and those fields of play yearn for those athletes.

What today’s sports fan and today’s sports reporter does arguably better than previous generations is they see sports through the eyes of the athletes themselves.

With no live sports to provide an escape from the ills of our unfair, cruel world and our sad, tragic times, we watched the WNBA draft as if we were Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, Lauren Cox, Chennedy Carter, Bella Alarie, Ruthy Hebard, Megan Walker, Jazmine Jones, Jocelyn Willoughby, Crystal Dangerfield, Te’a Cooper or another of the other draftees.

There have been a few people on social media throughout the course of this pandemic that have insinuated that it confirms sports provide no value. And while that may be true in some cases, we are clamoring for something – anything – to provide us comfort and get us through this trying (and, for many, crying) time.

Yes, the WNBA draft was hampered with delayed reactions from the player feeds. Yes, a lot can be said about why ESPN rushed through the second half of all picks. But when all was said and done, it delivered the best it could with the cards it (and we all) were dealt.

We will come out of this a better people. We will come out of this a more aware public. And from the perspective of the sports fan, hopefully we emerge from this as better fans too. Yeah, if our teams are winning, we will trash talk fans of other teams. If our teams are losing, we will be frustrated with the cautious optimism that better days lie ahead. But the lesson, as we wrote in an earlier piece is to never take sports for granted again.

Last night’s WNBA draft proved why. It showcased the positive side of sports when we all need something to be positive about. And when we finally get to see these rising young stars showcase their talents on the court, the experience for those athletes, who have had their careers by this virus, will be all the more special and confirm, once again, that real intangible power of sports is the biggest statistic that will never show up on a stat sheet.

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