Doug Wolter: Future of pro sports could be kind of weird, frankly

Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

Just what is going on these days with professional sports? Does anyone know what’s next?

For most of this week I was beginning to think that the dirty little secret in pro sports’ desire to start or re-start their seasons is that they’re really not so interested as they appear.

Some athletes seem more interested in social change than re-starting their careers. Milwaukee Bucks guard Kyle Korver, for instance, has come out publicly for not playing any NBA basketball if it would detract from his advocacy. I don’t know how it would, but I guess that’s another story.

The NFL’s main interest, at least for the moment, it seems, is getting Colin Kaepernick hired by a team … apparently as a quarterback. Because it’s good for public relations. Apparently.

And nobody can understand the on-again, off-again viciousness that has characterized major league baseball in recent days, except it actually should be easy to understand given the history of enmity between owners and players. It’s as if actual baseball is secondary to the primary goal, which is to ruin the other side’s reputation with fans.


The nation’s baseball writers took the bait. Most of them were anxious to blame the owners first, but I doubt most fans are interested in such calibrated judgments. I don’t think it matters to us that the owners are richer than the players. They’re all richer than the rest of us, and they all share the blame for pretending to care about fans -- because they really don’t seem to care much at all.

So on Wednesday the two sides miraculously re-started discussions that had on Tuesday appeared deader than a doornail, and then by Friday they were engaging in more food fights. Maybe there will be baseball yet. But if so, do it soon. Because here’s another dirty little secret: Most of us have discovered that we have lives with or without baseball.

Sports platforms are busily promoting the major sports, which is a little bit odd when you stop and think about it. I mean, there’s no baseball being played, there’s no basketball, and nobody knows what the NFL will look like if it returns at the proper time -- except that it will definitely have a nostalgic look, in that more knees will be taken and more fists will be raised in defiance of the systemic racism that supposedly saturates our society.

So, major sports entities like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News (to name a few) alternate between virtue signaling and pondering a still-uncertain sports future.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meanwhile, released a photo of Tom Brady in his new uniform, but pardon me if the story seems to have lost a little of its appeal over the past several weeks. ESPN has a piece on what Lamar Jackson has to say about appearing as the cover athlete for Madden 21, but personally I could see a future appearing around the corner where Madden 21 games could be more meaningful for football fans than the actual NFL games themselves.

The game’s “franchise” mode is deep and satisfying, I am told. How many football gamers have already immersed themselves in their own fantasy seasons to the extent that when the real NFL returns, with its political apparatus on full display, they’ll hardly notice?

The minor sports are also out of sorts these days. I watched the televised golf challenge with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson a few weeks ago, and though I tried to enjoy it I fell asleep on the couch.

Meanwhile, people are now discussing the future of professional tennis, a game I definitely care about. Most of my friends rank tennis as less interesting than golf as a spectator sport, and though I enjoy tennis both as an activity and a spectator sport, I chuckle to myself at the stated desire to make televised tennis more popular to young people.


The idea, supposedly, is to change rules to speed the game up -- which is ironic, I think, because the tennis volleys I see on my TV screen are typically so fast, I can hardly see the ball as it flies from one player to the other. But it’s the pace of play that they’re talking about, really, as in too many seconds that go by before the next serve.

Oh, for crying out loud. That’s absurd.

But that’s not all. They’d like to relax the rules so that more players are allowed to show emotion. Yes, indeed. We need more, not fewer, Serena Williams meltdowns on the court. If only we could make John McEnroe 40 years younger and give him free reign over chair umpires.

I don’t know. It seems that in all professional sports nowadays, people want to see more emotion, more controversy, more anger.

But don’t worry, it’s coming anyway. Just wait until the Star-Spangled Banner is heard at 2020’s first televised National Football League game.


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