NBC Sports Predictor Official Rules


UPDATE NOTICE: These Official Rules have been updated and are effective as of September 29, 2019. The Scoring and Winner Notification sections have been updated. For any Contest Entries submitted prior to September 29, 2019, the most recent version of the Official Rules published prior to September 29, 2019 shall apply.

NBC Sports Predictor Platform


PRELIMINARY INFORMATION: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A purchase will not improve your chances of winning. Void where prohibited. The NBC Sports Predictor Platform (the “Platform”) consists of the Website (defined below) and App (defined below), through which registered users may enter individual contests (each a “Contest”) that correspond to various, real-world sporting or other events (“Games”). Each Contest will consist of an entry period (each an “Entry Period”; collectively, “Entry Periods”) that will start when the Contest is available to enter on the Platform (“Entry Period Start Time”) and will end at a specified time (“Entry Period End Time”). All times in the Platform refer to Eastern Time (“ET”). Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received. Platform is subject all applicable federal, state and local laws.

ELIGIBILITY: Open only to permanent, legal United States residents who are physically residing in one (1) of the fifty (50) United States, (excluding Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories), and who are eighteen (18) years of age or older and the age of majority in their state of residence as of the Entry Period Start Time for the Contest in which entrant intends to enter. Officers, directors, and employees of Contest Entities (as defined below), members of these persons’ immediate families (spouses and/or parents, children, and siblings, and each of their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside), and/or persons living in the same households as these persons (whether or not related thereto) are not eligible to enter or win any Contest in the Platform. Contest Entities, as referenced herein, shall include Boom Fantasy, 530 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10018, NBC Sports Group, 1 Blachley Road, Stamford, CT 06902,  NBCUniversal Media, LLC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112 (collectively, “Sponsors”), prize provider(s) identified on the Platform, and each of their respective parent, subsidiary, and affiliate companies, and administrative, advertising, and promotion agencies, and any other entity involved in the development, administration, promotion, or implementation of the Platform.

You are not eligible to enter or win any Contest in the Platform if: (a) by virtue of your affiliation or employment with another company operating in the fantasy sports or sports gaming industry, you have or have had access to that company’s pre-release, non-public, or confidential data or other information that is not available to all other entrants of the Contest that may provide you an advantage in any such Contest in the Platform; (b) you are an official, referee, coach or professional athlete, or agent of any official, referee, coach or professional athlete, whose performance may be used to determine the outcome of any Contest in the Platform; or (c) you are a commissioner, owner or employee of a professional sports league/association or its member teams, including team management, team support personnel, and other individuals.

TO ENTER:  To enter a Contest on the Platform, during the applicable Contest Entry Period, either (i) visit https://predictor.nbcsports.com/ (the “Website”) and follow the provided instructions to become a registered user on the Platform, or (ii) visit the application store on your mobile device, search for the “NBC Sports Predictor” application, and follow the instructions to download and install the NBC Sports Predictor application (the “App”) and become a registered user on the Platform. Entrants must agree to the Platform’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy to become a registered user and to enter any Contest on the Platform. Limit one (1) user registration per person.

Once you have become a registered user on the Platform, visit the Platform “Lobby,” select the Contest which you intend to enter and follow the provided instructions to complete and submit the applicable Contest entry form (the “Entry”). Each Contest will be conducted among and between all eligible Entries received during the corresponding Entry Period. Entries must be received before the end of an Entry Period to be eligible for the corresponding Contest. Entry Period Start Time and Entry Period End Time for each Contest may vary. All Entries become the property of Sponsors and will not be acknowledged or returned. Contests, Games, Entry Periods, and Entry Period Start Times and Entry Period End Times are subject to change at the discretion of Sponsors and/or the Leagues. Eligibility restrictions may apply and vary by Contest, as provided in a Contest’s Information Pages (defined below).

You may submit only one (1) Entry for each Contest, unless otherwise specified in a Contest’s Information Pages (defined below). Multiple Entries received from any person beyond this limit will void all such additional Entries. Sponsors’ computer shall be the official timekeeper for all matters related to any Contest in the Platform. Entries that are incomplete, garbled, corrupted, suspect, fraudulent, or unintelligible for any reason, including, but not limited to, computer or network malfunction or congestion, are void and will not be accepted. “Receipt” of an Entry only occurs when Sponsors’ servers record an entrant’s registration information and Entry during the corresponding Entry Period. Screen shots, printouts or any other purported “proof” or “evidence” of entry or winning whatsoever, in lieu of Sponsors’ validation process, shall not be binding under any circumstances. Proof of submission (such as an automated receipt, screen shots, electronic mail, etc.) shall not constitute proof of actual receipt of Entry for purposes of these Official Rules. In case of a dispute over the identity of an entrant, the authorized account holder of the Facebook account, Google account, or email address used to enter will be deemed to be the entrant. “Authorized account holder” of a Facebook account is defined as the person who is assigned to a Facebook account by https://www.facebook.com/. “Authorized account holder” of a Google account is defined as the person who is assigned to a Google account by https://www.google.com/. “Authorized account holder” of an email address is defined as the person who is assigned to an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider or other organization that is responsible for assigning email addresses for the domain associated with the submitted email address. Entry constitutes permission (except where prohibited by law) to use entrant’s name, city, state, likeness, image, and/or voice for purposes of advertising, promotion, and publicity in any and all media now or hereafter known, throughout the world in perpetuity, without additional compensation, notification, permission, or approval.

Data rates may apply to an Entry submitted via your web-enabled mobile device. See your wireless service provider for details on rates and capabilities.

PRIVACY: Entrants will have the opportunity to receive information from Sponsors and selected partners by checking the appropriate box(es). If, at any time, you no longer wish to receive materials from Sponsors or our partners, please go to our Privacy Policy.

SCORING AND WINNER NOTIFICATION: For each Contest, entrants will submit Entries relating to certain Game(s), as instructed and provided on the Platform and each Contest’s entry, scoring, rules, FAQ, prizes, and/or other applicable pages on the Platform (“Information Pages”). Entries will be scored based upon the objective criteria described in a Contest’s Information Pages. Scoring may vary by Contest.

For each Contest, winners (each a “Winner”; collectively, “Winners”) will be determined based on the scoring results of such Contest, as provided on each Contest’s Information Pages and subject to verification of eligibility, as determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion. There may be multiple potential Winners for each Contest. The number of potential Winners for each Contest may vary.

On or about two (2) days after the end of each Entry Period, or at any other time designated in the respective Contest, potential Winners will be notified through the Platform and/or at the Facebook account, Google account, or email address submitted at the time of registration or Entry. Contest results and Winners’ names and/or registered usernames may also be posted on the Platform. Sponsors may share potential Winners’ names and contact information with Contest Entities and/or any prize provider(s), as applicable, if necessary. Potential Winners may be required at any time to provide Contest Entities with additional documentation and/or information to verify their identity and provide proof that all eligibility requirements have been met (collectively, “Eligibility Information”). Such Eligibility Information may include, without limitation, Winner’s date of birth, residential address, social security number, and an executed Form W-9. Potential Winners may also be required at any time to execute and return an affidavit of eligibility, release of liability, and, except where prohibited, publicity release (collectively, “Contest Documents”). Eligibility Information and Contest Documents must be provided and/or returned and executed upon Sponsors’ request. Noncompliance may result in disqualification from the Contest(s) or forfeiture of Prize(s), at Sponsors’ sole discretion. If a potential Winner cannot be reached, is found to be ineligible, cannot or does not comply with these Official Rules, or if Prize (as defined below) or prize notification is unclaimed or returned as undeliverable, including, but not limited to, if the Winner fails to withdraw their Prize within a reasonable time as determined by Sponsors but in no event later than twelve (12) months from the date of last activity on the Platform, such potential Winner may be disqualified from the Contest(s) and/or have Prize(s) forfeited.

Contest results and Winner determination will be based on the outcome, statistics, gameplay, and/or results of the applicable Game(s) as of the time when final scoring is tabulated by Sponsors. Contest results will not be changed in light of official statistics adjustments made by the Leagues (defined below), though Sponsors reserve the right to make adjustments to Contest results based on errors or irregularities in their calculation of results or in the transmission of information to Sponsors from third parties. The Leagues are not responsible or liable for Contest scoring or results, or any decision of Sponsors in connection with such Contest scoring or results, including without limitation, changes to official Game statistics. The “Leagues,” as referenced herein, shall include the professional sports leagues and/or associations identified or referenced in connection with the Platform, their member teams and/or clubs, and each of their respective subsidiaries, affiliates, shareholders, officers, directors, agents, representatives and employees. Sponsors, in their sole discretion, also may make adjustments in the event of noncompliance with these Official Rules. Sponsors have no obligation to delay the awarding of any Prize(s) in anticipation of any adjustment, and Sponsors reserve the right to reverse the awarding of Prize(s) in the event of any adjustment. Entrants agree to be bound by any such adjustments and to cooperate with Sponsors’ reasonable efforts to award Prize(s). Decisions of Sponsors are final and binding with respect to all matters related to each Contest in the Platform.

To the extent that the Platform offers or displays scoring, standings, results, statistics, or other information relating to any Contest (“Live Information”), all such Live Information is unofficial and is offered for informational and/or entertainment purposes only.

PRIZES: Prizes (“Prizes”) may awarded to Winner(s) based on the scoring results of select Contests. Prizes may vary by Contest. Prize information for each Contest will appear on the Contest’s Information Pages.

Entrants may only win one (1) Prize in each Contest, unless otherwise specified in a Contest’s Information Pages. Prior to awarding any Prize, Sponsors may conduct checks for compliance with these Official Rules, eligibility and identity verification, evidence of fraud or other prohibited conduct (as determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion). In the event that an entrant accumulates prizing with an Actual Retail Value (“ARV”) of six hundred dollars ($600) or more in a single calendar year, Sponsors will furnish an Internal Revenue Service Form 1099 to such entrant for the ARV of Prize(s) for the year in which Prize(s) was won.

Prizes won in Contests may be viewed on your “My Account” page. Winners may request withdrawal of Prizes via verified PayPal account and/or mailed check. If you do not already have a PayPal account, you can go to http://www.paypal.com to create a free PayPal account. Winners’ first and last name needs to be an exact match to their PayPal account information and their PayPal account needs to be verified. Sponsors may also request additional information, including without limitation, Eligibility Information and Contest Documents, before a withdrawal request may be processed. In certain instances, such as those involving larger or non-monetary Prizes, Prizes may be distributed in an alternative manner at Sponsors’ sole discretion.

All details of Prize(s) will be determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion and are subject to change.  Sponsors reserve the right to substitute Prize(s) (or portion thereof) with a similar prize (or prize element) of comparable or greater value. All taxes and other expenses, costs, or fees associated with the acceptance and/or use of Prize(s) are the sole responsibility of Winner(s). Prize(s) cannot be transferred by Winner(s) and is valid only for the items awarded, with no substitution of Prize(s) by Winner(s). Sponsors shall have no responsibility or liability for cancellations, delays, or any other change by any company or person providing any element of Prize(s), and are not responsible or liable for any expenses incurred as a consequence thereof. Prize(s) will be awarded “as is” with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied by Sponsors. Prize(s) may be subject to certain terms and conditions as specified by issuer. Restrictions may apply.

CONDITIONS: By entering any Contest on the Platform, each entrant agrees for entrant and for entrant’s heirs, executors, and administrators (a) to release and hold harmless Contest Entities, the Leagues, and each of their respective officers, directors, and employees (collectively, “Released Parties”) from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from such entrant’s participation in the Platform and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of Prize(s) or any portion thereof (including any travel related thereto); (b) to indemnify Released Parties from any and all liability resulting or arising from the Platform and to hereby acknowledge that Released Parties have neither made nor are in any manner responsible or liable for any warranty, representation, or guarantee, express or implied, in fact or in law, relative to Prize(s), including express warranties provided exclusively by prize supplier that are sent along with Prize(s); (c) if selected as a Winner, to the posting of such entrant’s name on the Platform and the use by Released Parties of such name, voice, image, and/or likeness for publicity, promotional, and advertising purposes in any and all media now or hereafter known, throughout the world in perpetuity, without additional compensation, notification, permission, or approval, and, upon request, to the giving of consent, in writing, to such use; and (d) to be bound by these Official Rules and to waive any right to claim any ambiguity or error therein or in the Platform itself, and to be bound by all decisions of the Sponsors, which are binding and final. Failure to comply with these conditions may result in disqualification from any Contest on the Platform or forfeiture of Prize(s) at Sponsors’ sole discretion.

ADDITIONAL TERMS: Sponsors reserve the right to permanently disqualify from the Platform or any Contest any person they believe has intentionally violated these Official Rules. Any attempt to deliberately damage the Platform or the operation thereof is unlawful and subject to legal action by Sponsors, who may seek damages to the fullest extent permitted by law. The failure of Sponsors to comply with any provision of these Official Rules due to an act of God, hurricane, war, fire, riot, earthquake, terrorism, act of public enemies, actions of governmental authorities outside of the control of Sponsors (excepting compliance with applicable codes and regulations), or other “force majeure” event will not be considered a breach of these Official Rules.  Released Parties assume no responsibility for any injury or damage to entrants’ or to any other person’s computer relating to or resulting from entering or downloading materials or software in connection with the Platform. Released Parties are not responsible for telecommunications, network, electronic, technical, or computer failures of any kind; for inaccurate transcription of entry information; for errors in any promotional or marketing materials or in these Official Rules; for any human or electronic error; or for Entries that are stolen, misdirected, garbled, delayed, lost, late, damaged, or returned. Sponsors do not warrant or make any representations of any kind with respect to the information provided through the Platform, including, without limitation, Live Information, and Sponsors shall not be responsible or liable for the accuracy, usefulness, or availability of such information, or for any errors or omissions in connection therewith. Sponsors reserve the right to cancel, modify, or suspend any Contest in the Platform or any element thereof (including, without limitation, these Official Rules) without notice in any manner and for any reason (including, without limitation, in the event of any unanticipated occurrence that is not fully addressed in these Official Rules).  In the event of cancellation, modification, or suspension, Sponsors reserve the right to select Winners in a random drawing from among all eligible, non-suspect Entries received prior to the time of the event warranting such cancellation, modification, or suspension.  Notice of such cancellation, modification, or suspension will be posted on the Platform.  Sponsors may prohibit any entrant or potential entrant from participating in any Contest in the Platform, void any Entries submitted by such entrant or potential entrant or disqualify such entrant or potential entrant from any Contest if such entrant or potential entrant engages in any conduct Sponsors, in their sole discretion, determine to be improper, unfair, fraudulent or otherwise adverse to the operation of the Platform or in any way detrimental to other entrants or potential entrants (“Improper Conduct”). If any entrant or potential entrant engages in any Improper Conduct (as determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion), Prizes may be delayed, withheld and/or forfeited, and Sponsors may require the return of any Prizes that have already been awarded. Improper Conduct includes, without limitation: violating or showing a disregard for these Official Rules; acting with an intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any other entrant, Sponsors, or Sponsors’ agents or representatives; tampering or attempting to tamper in any way with the Platform (or any computers, programs or networks associated with the Platform), any Contest’s entry process or the operation, gameplay and/or results of any Game or Contest; falsifying personal information, including information required to use the Platform, enter any Contest or win any Prize; violating eligibility requirements; or behaving in any other disruptive manner (as determined by Sponsors in their sole discretion).  Sponsors reserve the right to modify these rules for clarification purposes without materially affecting the terms and conditions of the Platform.


WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT: For the names of Winners, available after seven (7) days after the conclusion of any Contest, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to be received within sixty (60) days of the conclusion of such Contest to: NBC Sports Predictor Platform, NBC Sports Group, 1 Blachley Road, Stamford, CT 06902.

NBC Sports trademarks, service marks and copyrights and the NBC Sports Predictor mark used herein are proprietary to NBCUniversal Media LLC. All rights reserved.

The NBC Sports Predictor Platform and Contests are not in any way affiliated with, or administered or endorsed by Facebook, Google, Android, or Apple.

Vin Scully and Bill Russell: Essential voices lost


Over a duration of roughly 48 hours from Sunday evening until Tuesday evening, the voices of first, Bill Russell, and then Vin Scully, were stilled for eternity. This does not mean that we will never hear them again; we surely will. Search, click, listen. ‘Little roller up along first…‘ Search, click, listen. ‘I would kick your ass…’ But those voices will no longer evolve with the world around them, as they once did splendidly and importantly, though very differently – Scully’s mellifluously and comfortably, Russell’s stridently and relentlessly – across lives that lasted 182 years in total. They were voices that carried the weight of history in very different receptacles, but imprinted themselves on generations.

The swift unfolding and discarding of information in our time will quickly and efficiently hasten both men from concurrently celebrated and mourned to concurrently shuffled to the broad expanse of history, where the elegantly faded relevance of a long life shifts inexorably to the hazy equity of legacy. Because this is what the present does to the past, and always has, although more ruthlessly nowadays, where delivery systems pass today’s news into yesterday’s more efficiently than ever. (A process that will only become more efficient).

They were born seven years apart, Scully in 1927 – the peak year of the Ruth-Gehrig Murderers’ Row Yankees – in the Bronx; Russell in the Jim Crow South (Monroe, Louisiana) in 1934, before moving to Oakland at age nine. Their lives would in many ways be tethered to their beginnings (as are all of ours), likely in ways they didn’t comprehend until well into adulthood (same) but embraced both gently (Scully) and forcefully (Russell). They were products of their beginnings, their races, and their chosen professions. In this same way, Scully remained voluble longer, because his implement of choice was, literally, a microphone (and a camera, though not at the beginning). Russell’s was a basketball, and the expiration date comes much sooner, although Russell’s importance long outlived his playing and coaching careers.

In a way, they were polar opposites, and not just because one was a red-haired white man, and the other Black. (Although that distinction is fundamental and vital). In the wonderful remembrances that have poured forth for Scully (and which poured forth upon his retirement in 2016), the word comfortable is omnipresent. Those who listened to his voice while sitting, while driving, while falling asleep in distant times, found comfort in its dependably soothing tones. Russell was not about comfort, and while his dominance as the leader of the Celtics’ dynasty from 1957-’69 brought joy to many, including William Felton Russell himself, it was a different kind of joy, connected to the brutal duality of sports that Russell understood better than all but a few others (Jordan, Belichick, Curry, to start): One wins (usually me), one loses (usually you); the rest is just filler.

Their lives were mirror images: Scully rose to become an icon in a manner that other broadcasters and journalists of all kinds would respect and admire (we love nothing more than to shade our easy lives with tales of when it was much harder, and yes, I froze my sorry butt off at the Union College vs. Ithaca D3 playoff game in 1984, and don’t you forget it). Scully did college football, college basketball, boxing… everything, in the mid- and late 1940s after graduating from Fordham. He once broadcast a frigid football game from the roof of Fenway Park without a coat or gloves, because he had expected to work indoors. Respect.

By the 1950s he was doing Brooklyn Dodgers games with Red Barber and that was a springboard to everything else. In the 70s and 80s, he was everywhere. Not just baseball, where he called Hank Aaron and Kirk Gibson, and sprinkled his broadcast with gentlemanly expressiveness like describing Bob Gibson as pitching “like he’s double-parked,” but also the NFL, where in 1981, he called The Catch, on each occasion rising to meet the moment and then generously getting out of its way.

As a practical matter, the last quarter century of his career was spent mostly with the Dodgers, but something more: He became, almost coincidentally, a steward for something simpler. His measured pace, his delicate wordsmithing, even the cut of his sportcoats and the perfection in his hairstyle, were beloved as counterweights to the noisy world that grew at arm’s length around him, to the catchphrase craze, to hot takes and embracing debate, to the decline of interest in America’s Pastime. He was a time machine, yet at the same time, never more current. Where others shouted to be heard, Scully simply spoke as he always had and we listened. Another word associated with Scully: Treasure. It was a good word.

Few used that word for Russell, and not because he wasn’t, but because it would constitute sanding down his rough edges, and his rough edges were important.

But his beginning: Because he was Black man in America, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Russell’s life wasn’t hard. Of course it was. As my former Sports Illustrated colleague Jack McCallum wrote in his eloquent obituary, “Russell was just 9 when his parents arrived in Oakland, and so he had only a minor sense of the Jim Crow indignities that his parents had suffered in Louisiana. Charles Russell had a shotgun stuck in his face at a gas station, and Katie was told by a policeman to go home and change because she was wearing `white women’s clothing.’ But the son came to know heartache and hard times on his own (his mother died when he was 12), and he would come to know virulent racism, too, especially after he arrived in 1950s Boston, a city that in some ways was not unlike Monroe…”

But athletically, after gawky beginnings, Russell rushed to greatness by dint of raw talent refined and tireless work, the tools of the transcendent. He was fantastically athletic, and applied that athleticism disproportionately to defense and team play throughout his career. He led the University of San Francisco to consecutive national championships in 1955-’56 (and a 55-game winning streak that lasted until John Wooden’s UCLA teams broke it), and was one of the best high jumpers in the world, despite poor technique and little practice. As a professional, he owned both Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West in the column that mattered most to him: Championships.

Through it all, racism followed. As Russell would write in his autobiography, his USF team was hounded on the road and barred from hotels. In Boston, even as he helped build the dynasty, his home in the nice suburb of Reading was vandalized, and the vandals defecated in his bed. He never forgot those moments (nor should he have been expected to): When his jersey was raised to the rafters of the old Boston Garden in 1972, he insisted that only his teammates were present. He didn’t attend his Hall of Fame induction three years later, although later in life he was pulled affectionately back in the NBA world.

What he did was immerse himself among the first generation of activist Black athletes , including Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Harry Edwards and a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others. In 2015, I interviewed Brown at his Los Angeles home, and he recalled the summer of 1968, when Russell lived with him in L.A., as their collective activism roiled and grew. “Bill was a serious man,” said Brown, who at that time had been retired for three years, and was himself a serious man, in the extreme. “We talked about the state of the world as Black men in America. A lot of people came to this house.”

If Scully was an every day, every night reminder of a simpler time, Russell was just as much a reminder that times were not so simple, and for some Americans, never had been. He could laugh, a paint-peeling cackle that can’t be forgotten, but it was that seriousness that defined him more explicitly. He understood his reputation: When he was hospitalized in 2018, and then released, he Tweeted: “Thank you everyone for the kind thoughts, yes I was taken to the hospital last night & as my wife likes to remind me I don’t drink enough. On my way home & as most my friends know I don’t have a heart to give me trouble.”

He was also quick to remind any inquisitor that however you choose to frame his legacy (that word), he was the greatest winner ever. Maybe. He’s on the shortest of lists in that debate. It’s not Wilt or West, that much is certain.

His perspective was always essential. As was Scully’s. It’s trite to say that they will both be missed terribly. But it’s irresponsible to leave it unsaid.

Sports have haltingly survived the pandemic, and highlighted it

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Images

Late on the night of Monday, Jan. 11, the college football season ended with Alabama winning another national championship game. It is an accident of chronological symmetry – but a convenient one – that this game took place 10 months to the day after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, compelling the NBA to pause its 2019-20 season. Within days, that pause had become a shutdown and nearly every sports entity in the United States – and many around the world – had done likewise. The Olympic Games had been postponed. This is a story you already know, and that you have lived.

You lived this part, too: Not long after the widespread shutdowns, sports haltingly resumed. At one end of the spectrum, horse racing barely stopped at all; NASCAR only briefly. Then there was an oddball trickle of filler material: Celebrity golf with football players and PGA Tour pros. Korean baseball. The Last Dance, about games played long ago. Soon came larger discussions about NHL and NBA resumptions and a delayed start to the Major League Baseball season. Off in the distance: The behemoths of college football and the NFL lay in wait. As May turned to June, every passing day seemed to bring the jarring cognitive dissonance created by dueling stories about unchecked illness, death, and mass graves in New York City existing alongside stories outlining how sports could resume. (Not for everybody, because the pandemic was, and remains, a trigger for aggressive disagreement over science and the combustible concept of personal freedom). This dissonance was because we need sports.

The archetypal fan’s position in all of this was that amid a pandemic that had pushed citizens into fearful, masked isolation – again, not everybody; not by a long shot – the reliable entertainment provided by televised sports could offer a soothing balm. Fair enough. The most common word employed was distraction. This was a comfortable linguistic  choice, because it attached to the resumption of sports an innocuous description that conjured up a feet-on-the-footstool, Coors Light-in-the-fist energy that could be cast as something valuable and harmless in the face of a deadly and relentless enemy. It was also a convenient framing for sports leagues (and broadcasters), who needed games not as a distraction, but as a means to recoup potentially devastating financial losses. Businesses across the nation were trying to do the same thing in other ways. (Outdoor dining, curbside groceries and other goods, etc.; which are not analogous to sports, but share an economic underpinning).

Alabama’s decisive victory over Ohio State Monday night in South Florida brought the sports world closer to the completion of something resembling a full calendar year of pandemic competition. Eight NFL teams remain alive in the playoffs and by early February the league will award the Lombardi Trophy to the Kansas City Chiefs I mean to whomever wins the Super Bowl. When that game ends, we will have seen the completion of the NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR seasons, college football and the NFL, three of the four golf majors, three of the four tennis majors, and horse racing’s Triple Crown, among many others. March Madness did not happen, but might happen this year. The Olympics are scheduled for this summer.

In broad strokes, it’s unfair to cast this as anything but a remarkable success. (Drilling deeper, this is more debatable; keep reading). In the midst of a public health emergency unlike anything most living Americans had experienced (and with daily social and political unrest), champions were crowned, historical lines of succession have been maintained, Coors Lights have been consumed with feet up on those footstools. (Not by me, personally, but that’s a matter of taste). Distraction was ostensibly provided.  But was it really provided?

This is where it gets more complicated. The working theory was that sports would divert America’s attention from the pandemic, that it would put COVID-19 on our collective back burner while LeBron won his title, while Bryson DeChambeau swallowed Winged Foot and Dustin Johnson won the Masters, while Patrick Mahomes worked his magic. That has both happened, and not happened.

In reality, sports did not hide the pandemic; sports highlighted the pandemic. Telecasts were not an escape from the pandemic, they were a constant reminder of its existence, of its presence in our lives. Like a trip to the grocery store or a hike in the local park meant – and still means, for many people – seeing friends and neighbors in masks and standing an awkward distance from other humans, consuming sports meant accepting images that accentuated the virus’s hold. The NHL and NBA summer bubbles unfolded against a backdrop of a manufactured physical environment and strange, digital sound; MLB to the striking images of giant, empty stadiums. Golf courses that looked eerily like actual golf courses rather than jury-rigged outdoors arenas. This was a distraction that came at a price. (Not necessarily a bad thing).

And even for those fans who were able to compartmentalize the action, there were more abject reminders that sports would not be the toy department. In late August, after the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers, NBA teams boycotted a night’s worth of playoff games, and nearly every major professional league followed suit in some form. This, while NBA and WNBA teams had woven support for social justice causes into the fabric of their restarted season.

The summer was also only the beginning. In the autumn, sports moved more fully outside their bubble and into a more complex ethical space, with the launch of the college football and NFL seasons. These are the two most avidly consumed sports in America. College campuses lay quiet while football teams played games in partially empty stadiums; two major conferences (the Pac-12 and Big Ten) shut down and then hurriedly restarted. Dozens of games were cancelled and one participant in the national championship game – Ohio State – played only eight games. The myth of college football as an amateur enterprise was finished off, with ramifications that will shift and linger, changing the face and the economy of that sport. Financial losses were cut and entertainment provided, but there was nothing normal about it. And at the end, there was the uncomfortable image of hundreds of Alabama fans (probably students, but probably not all of them), streaming into the street in Tuscaloosa to celebrate the Tide’s title, an image of potential virus-spreading that seemed to either undercut or ignore the measures that football had implemented for safety.

The NFL has reached its Final Eight without a single game cancelled, but that broad statistic – of which the league is justifiably proud – is at least somewhat misleading. The Denver Broncos played a game with no quarterbacks, the New Orleans Saints with almost no running backs, the Cleveland Browns with almost no wide receivers and, in a playoff game, no head coach. Competitive balance has been shredded, and not just by Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. There is an argument that football in a pandemic is just going to be different, much as life in a pandemic is just going to be different. Your willingness to accept this rationale is directly proportional to your nebulous belief that – back to this phrase – we need sports, because we definitely need life.

Another angle: The return of sports in the summer and into the fall and winter, presented an opportunity for pandemic behavior modeling for a very wide and attentive audience. Cynics called this pandemic theater, but the image of Andy Reid in a shield or Nick Saban in a mask is powerful (and yeah, probably annoying to some). As is the image of college students dancing and hugging in the stands on a Saturday night, which occurred almost every weekend, and in the extreme, with scenes like Notre Dame fans (again, presumably mostly, but not entirely, students) rushing the field to celebrate a November upset of Clemson. Once again, sports did not distract from the pandemic, they highlighted it in high-definition, for better and worse.

This viewpoint isn’t universal. There is a whole ecosystem of content built around underscoring the lesser – although not negligible – effects of COVID-19 on young, healthy athletes as supporting evidence for playing games. This is a microcosm of larger arguments that exist outside the sports world, as to how we should function in the pandemic; it’s likely that history will not judge America kindly in this regard, but that is a job for historians. This also rises a more ethically vexing point – To what extent did the insistence on playing non-bubbled sports inhibit control of the pandemic, writ large? It seems naïve to suggest that COVID-19 wasn’t spread outside football world by those inside it, with unknown consequences. One example: The vaccine distribution facility at Hard Rock Stadium was closed early on Monday, to free up space for the football game. Hence, some non-zero number of senior citizens and frontline caregivers postponed their inoculations.

Calendar pages have flipped, but the sports-and-virus dance continues: The NBA is a few weeks into a bubble-free, 72-game regular season, with predictable results. Games have been postponed, and several have been played by teams dressing the minimum of eight players. Most of the absences have been related to aggressive contact tracing, for which the league should be commended. The NHL opened this week with divisional alignments reconfigured to minimize travel, but it seems likely the league will encounter the same issues that have presented to the NFL and NBA. Bubbles are binary; you are in one or you are not. College basketball has lurched forward, day by day; in mid-January, some teams had played as few as four games. Plans now call for staging the entire NCAA Tournament in and around Indianapolis, which could be a bubble if done aggressively.

It’s an interesting example. Sports have suffered to varying degrees from bubbling and reduced attendance, and few events thrive more on atmosphere than the NCAA Tournament (except at noon on Thursday, when you can sometimes hear sneaker squeaks). Bubbled Madness feels like an oxymoron. Sports at their best are joyful, with moments of joylessness mixed in (injuries, scandal). At times, pandemic sports have veered dangerously close to becoming the inverse: Joyless endeavors with moments of joy mixed in.

Someday sports – and life – will return to a new normal. New, because the effects of 2020-21 will leave scars on the culture. But long after that normal is attained, images will remain behind. NFL Films versions of the 2020 season will capture a (mostly) masked spectacle; the story of Saban’s record seventh national title will have a chapter on his masking, and his infections (one false positive, the other accurate). The record will be permanent, no less than the grainy pictures we’ve all seen from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. What happened, happened.

On Tuesday night on a snowy mountainside in Flachau, Austria, there was a women’s World Cup slalom ski race. It’s a storybook place, a cinematographer’s version of a ski village; I spent time there in 1997, reporting on the great skier Hermann Maier, who was raised in Flachau. (I would love to get back there, but you know….). On Tuesday night, snowflakes fell from the night ski as American Mikaela Shiffrin tore down the piste on her second run to win the race. There were no spectators on the side of the course or at the bottom, when in different times there would have been hundreds or thousands, waving banners and clanging cowbells. There was only the sound of sharpened ski edges screeching through turns.

Shiffrin finished, looked at the scoreboard and then screamed in joy, an unusual reaction from her. But it was her first slalom victory in more than a year, and the first since her father, Jeff, died suddenly last February. So maybe unusual, after all. As Shiffrin moved about the finish corral, smiling, she was approached by third-place finisher Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, who spread her arms to hug. Shiffrin pulled back, yanked a gaiter up over her face and only then hugged Holdener. It did not look like theater, it looked like reality.

An empty hillside, a sudden, dutiful masking and a quiet hug. You could call it a window into pandemic sports, but really it was a mirror.