Sports crystallized coronavirus for America; now we adjust to life without them

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There comes a moment in every crisis when our culture gathers to declare solemnly that sports are not “important.” And let me join the chorus here in saying that this week, right now, and probably for quite some time ahead, sports are, indeed, not “important.” But behind that pro forma, though very genuine,  declaration lies a deeper and more complex truth: The impact of sports on the daily lives of many Americans (and far beyond America, but let’s keep it domestic for now) tells the story of an institution that sure looks like something important from a distance. Millions attend games and many millions more consume those games remotely. Their lives are emotionally affected by the outcomes. Another subset of the population works at those games, deriving income and supporting families. Their lives are financially affected by the existence of the games.

Important is a word, like all words, that shifts in ultimate meaning, hopelessly dependent on context. What was important four days ago is less important today. But absolutism doesn’t fit.

We all have our stories, large and small. Nineteen years ago this coming September, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 provided unimaginable context. Sports were shut down for more than a week. Unimportant. (Until they came back; see below). This moment landed fully for me only when, five days after the attacks, for a story in Sports Illustrated, I visited the Staten Island home of New England Patriots’ offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, where three brothers were New York City fireman. Waiting to eat his mom’s Sunday dinner of pasta and meatballs, I sat on the front stoop with Joe and, for a while, talked about … football.

Some details have faded. But Joe talked about how, despite the fact that he played only at a Division II college, he found that football is football and if you hit an NFL defensive tackle hard enough, you can push him off the ball, too. They bleed like anybody else. We spoke not with reverence, but simply because it was a language we shared. Sports were not important. Minutes later, Joe’s younger brother, Jimmy would emotionally describe running out of Tower 2 minutes before it collapsed. But sports were present in our thoughts, keeping us company. It was a Sunday afternoon in September and there were no NFL games. It was fully and unassailably appropriate that there were no games, but strange, nevertheless.

Last Wednesday night was less dramatic. I was sitting at my kitchen table watching an NBA game on my laptop, the Miami Heat against the Charlotte Hornets (a guy from my college plays for the Heat, so I’ve adopted them), and toggling back and forth to social media and news sites to monitor the news. In the fourth quarter of the game came word that the NBA had suspended its season (and shortly after, the reason for that suspension – Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19). It was a stunning moment which may have triggered the cascade of coronavirus-related  postponements that followed. Meanwhile, the game continued on my laptop. And I continued to watch, for which I have no good excuse. It wasn’t even an entertaining game. I was detached, yet engaged. Like talking to an idle football player on an NFL Sunday, with the rubble from the towers visible in the distance, 19 years earlier.

The next day, Thursday March 12, was historically disruptive. In rapid succession – yet almost randomly – college conference tournaments were cancelled, including one, the Big East, which was at halftime of a noon game. Soon afterward, the entire NCAA Tournament and all spring sports, were cancelled. (The Ivy League had done this two days earlier, to much criticism). The NHL and Major League Baseball shut down. On Friday morning The Masters and the Boston Marathon were postponed, the former indefinitely and the latter until September. The Kentucky Derby, scheduled for May 2 with a crowd well north of 150,000, is realistically up next, having already put the word “postponed” in a press release. The Olympic Games loom in the distance; thus far the International Olympic Committee has remained surprisingly and unequivocally confident in its public stance. Thousands of athletes await what is for most a singular opportunity, doused in uncertainty they didn’t need or desire.

All of this does two things: One, it drives home the seriousness of the health issue facing the United States and the world. (Perhaps it should not have needed driving home, but these times we live in can be confusing). Two, it underscores, with less urgency but analogous longing, the role that sports play in the lives of many Americans. The games will be gone, and even amidst everything else that inconveniences us, and frightens us, the absence of those games will be profoundly felt.

I have made my living providing sports content for more than four decades. (I would not have used that phrasing – providing sports content – four decades ago). But just as significantly, I have also been a fan. Many times I’ve finished a day’s work and immediately grabbed a beer and turned on a game that I’m not covering. I’d like to say this is rather like your plumber waking up on Saturday morning and unclogging some toilets just for fun. But we all know that’s an unfair metaphor, because watching the games is fun. You get the idea.

Most of us who care about these things (that is not all of us, not by a long shot; more than 175 million Americans don’t watch the Super Bowl), can trace the arc of our lives through sports. Me? The first sporting event I remember taking place was the 1964 World Series. The first game I attended live was between the Mets and Giants at Shea Stadium in 1965. Willie McCovey hit a home run off the right field foul pole. Later that year I saw Jim Brown’s last game at Yankee Stadium; he ran onto the field without his helmet and looked like a god. Many years later I sat ringside when Mike Tyson knocked out a bunch of people. I was courtside when Christian Laettner beat Kentucky. In the press box when David Tyree caught a pass with his helmet. Always games.

Many years later I was in Pittsburgh reporting a story on the Steelers, leading into a Super Bowl. It was a Wednesday and my son had a hockey game back at home. I booked flights. But I needed to ask Hines Ward a question and he was late getting to the locker room, so I waited out the scrum, fired off my question and then drove to the airport irresponsibly fast and made the game. Two years earlier I had missed my daughter’s team winning a state championship in rowing because I was babysitting Barbaro in an equine hospital. Games, by another name, but still games. Too many to count or remember.

The spring is a remarkable time in American sports. The centerpiece is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. There are many problems with the major college sports system in the United States, but March Madness is a near-perfect distillation of everything we cherish about sports: It has giant programs and little ones, and sometimes the little ones win. It has unscripted drama that ends in ways we can’t imagine but yet which we expect it to deliver. It has brackets. And for this year, it’s gone.

The Masters comes in early April, just as the Stanley Cup and NBA Playoffs are getting underway. Soon after: The Derby and the rest of the Triple Crown. It is an embarrassment of fans’ riches in a way that even the autumn, with its exhilarating succession of Saturdays and Sundays, is not. It is the difference between the silence of Augusta and the roar of Churchill Downs. Between a power play in overtime and three-pointer at the horn. It is cutting down nets late on a Monday night in early April. It is everything we love about sports and more of it than we can embrace. All gone. Even more painful in some ways: Thousands of college and high school athletes have lost their senior seasons, a once in a lifetime experience, both by definition and emotion. (Again, not infecting elderly family members with a deadly virus is more important than senior year, but that doesn’t make the pain any less real).

It is the culture’s fallback position, both as criticism and self-defense, to call sports escapism. But they are something more than that. In the age of social media, they are where we gather, even when we are not gathered. They are what we share, when we can’t agree on anything else, here in our fractured 2020. We can disagree on whether Tiger can win again or whether Maximum Security should have been taken down (a more complex matter as of this week, as it turns out) and walk away friends, unlike after so much of our heated political discourse. But that word – escapism – doesn’t do it justice. We don’t escape to sports, we immerse ourselves in them. It’s a subtle difference, but if you have been gutted by a team’s defeat, or elevated by its win, you understand.

Back to 2001. In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, sports created a central rallying point for the nation. It was not that the games became too important, but that they were something the country could share. Too often sports are given credit for a power they don’t possess, but in this case, there was no hyperbole.

The hell of the present is that we have lost that oasis. The nation and the world are facing a crisis unlike nearly any living human has experienced. Perhaps it is neither as bad as the worst prognostications or as benign as the most promising ones. There are better places than here for that discussion. It is virtually certain that most Americans will be more isolated than is customary in our modern world. It is a time when sports might have connected us across our shared uncertainty, but instead they have been shut down because sustaining them would likely have made us sicker by bringing us too close. The opposite of escapism.

The future is as uncertain as the present. Perhaps we will see an autumn for the ages, a healthy nation consuming the Masters, the Triple Crown and the NFL and college football together. Perhaps it will be longer. There is a vague awareness that sports will return, but that awareness seems almost untouchable in the present, far away.

Yet in this moment, by what is absent from our lives, it’s ever clear: Sports are important, just not important right now. And it’s OK to miss them.

Tim Layden is writer-at-large for NBC Sports. He was previously a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 25 years.

Father’s Day Gifts 2022: Best ideas for the Sports Fan Dad from Golf to Electronics 

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NBC Sports is editorially independent. Our editors selected these deals and items because we think you will enjoy them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Items are sold by retailer, not NBC Sports. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. 

Father’s Day is just days away and as the thinking goes, the Dads of the family are often the hardest to shop for. But with the weather getting warmer, there’s countless opportunities to get outside, whether for sports or relaxation, and that means countless opportunities to find the perfect gift to make Father’s Day brighter for the Dads who love sports in any and all forms.

To help you in the gift selection process (even if you’ve left it up to the last minute!), the team at NBC Sports has sourced great options from across the internet for sporting Dads of all kinds. Whether the person you’re shopping for is up before dawn to get in a workout, more inclined to take in sports from the couch, or the consummate host planning summer’s best tailgate, there’s a great choice on this list across a variety of price ranges. Below are our ideas separated into categories:

  1. Golf gifts for Dad
  2. Sports gifts for Dad
  3. Tailgating gifts for Dad
  4. Tech gifts for Dad
  5. Other Father’s Day gifts for sports lovers

Golf gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

1. Pop-up Golf Chipping Net, $44.99, Amazon

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A perfect way to perfect your chipping skills before heading out for a tee time. The net is portable and includes all the pieces needed for a full-scale practice at-home or on the go.

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2. Under Armour Men’s Golf Tech Polos, $27, Amazon

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Help your Dad look their best on the golf course with these breathable and soft golf polos that wick sweat and dry quickly.

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Gifts under $100

3. PGA TOUR Superstore Club Fitting experience, PGA TOUR Superstore

This experience is a must for any dad looking to elevate their game. Per the PGA Tour Super Store site, fittings combine “game-changing technology and manufacturer-specific equipment with the personal attention of our certified fitters to deliver a fully immersive fitting session.” Golfers will leave the one-on-one session with specs for perfectly fitted custom clubs that will be built and shipped to you.

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4. Adidas Men’s Spikeless Golf Shoes, $79, Amazon

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Give your Dad an extra boost of confidence in his golf swing with a pair of Adidas Spikeless golf shoes. Not only are they comfortable, but the shoes are lightweight, stylish, and affordable.

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5. Wood Golf Putting Green Mat with Auto Ball Return, $85, Amazon

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Another great option for Dad that will scratch his golf itch! With this indoor or outdoor putting green mat, the ball will automatically roll back to the golfer after he putts it into the hole.

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Gifts over $100

6. Rukket Haack Golf Net, $130, Amazon

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Help Dad perfect his golf skills right at home with this practice golf net. Just like the pop-up chipping net, this gift option is lightweight and portable and will allow Dad to hit golf balls right in the backyard.

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Sports gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

7. Lightweight Gym Bag with Wet Pocket and Shoe Compartment, $19, Amazon

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This bag is lightweight with multiple pockets and perfect for the Dad trying to fit in a workout. It’s available in multiple colors, has waterproof storage for swim gear or sweaty apparel post-gym and doubles as the perfect bag for a quick weekend trip.

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8. Yeti mug, $38, Amazon

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Whether it’s for early morning workouts or coaching the 8am Little League game on Saturday morning, a Yeti mug is a great accessory to keep coffee piping hot. Tumblers come in various shapes and sizes to indulge all varieties of pre-game caffeine habits.

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Gifts under $100

9. Outdoor Men’s RoadCycling Shoes, $50, Amazon

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The weather is getting warmer, making it the perfect time to give your Dad these comfortable and colorful shoes for the road. The shoes have a quick drying mesh material that will provide the ultimate in efficiency and comfort.

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10. Pickleball Set, $60, Amazon

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Invented in 1965 and combining elements of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, pickleball is the latest rec sport sensation sweeping the nation. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, it’s one of America’s fastest growing sports, picking up corporate sponsorships and avid enthusiasts nationwide. If Dad is a paddle sport enthusiast looking to indulge their competitive streak, this paddle set is the perfect way to get started.

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Gifts over $100

11. Garmin Watch, $170, Garmin

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Garmin is one of the most trusted names in GPS watches and enables you to monitor and track your fitness endeavors while streamlining your training. Whether it’s for the Dad training for their 10th marathon or just getting started in running and biking, a Garmin Forerunner is a great option to level-up your exercise.

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Tailgating gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

12. Romanticist 28pc BBQ Accessories Set, $47, Amazon

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This 28-piece set of BBQ accessories is the perfect gift for a Dad that loves to cook for everyone. This versatile set has everything you need: a spatula, fork, 2 barbecue mats, tongs, basting brush, grill brush, extra brush head, meat thermometer, 2 steak knives and forks, 2 shakers, 8 corn holders, 4 skewers and an aluminum case.

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Gifts under $100

13. NFL Brand Folding Chairs, $80, Amazon

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Help Dad rep his favorite team at the beach or a tailgate with this NFL branded folding chair. The carry strap attached to the chair helps make this portable chair a must-have for any Dad on the go!

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14. The Meater Thermometer, $70, Amazon

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The Meater is the perfect kitchen gadget for a Dad who loves to cook meat-forward meals for a big group. It’s a smart thermometer that allows you to monitor the temperature of the meat you’re cooking up to 33 feet away from the grill, oven or rotisserie. Just download the free app and you’re all set!

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Gifts over $100

15. NFL Logo Cornhole Boards, $120, Victory Tailgate

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Keep guests entertained all summer long with the perfect tailgate companion – a cornhole set! This set is perfect for any Dad who wants to rep his favorite NFL team.

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16. Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler, $156, Amazon

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This cooler has a capacity of 52 quarts and is the perfect option to keep the drinks cold and the tailgate guests happy. Available in multiple colors, it’s a heavy-duty option for all pregame festivity needs.

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Tech gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

17. Tribe Water Resistant Cell Phone Holder, $15, Amazon

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This cell phone armband case is perfect for any Dad who likes to go on walks or runs outside. His phone will stay secure and safe, and the case comes with an adjustable strap, key pocket and headphone cord holder.

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18. Amazon Prime Membership, $15/month, Amazon

Give your Dad the gift of Amazon Prime! Not only will he get access to Prime Video which will allow him to live stream his favorite sports, but he can enjoy the convenience of a fast and free delivery for online orders.

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Gifts under $100

19. TV Soundbar Speaker, $86, Amazon

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Make it feel as if your Dad is actually watching the game from the stadium of his favorite sports team. This TV Soundbar speaker will give your Dad a natural HiFi sound experience — perfect for NFL Sundays and also for family movie nights.

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Gifts over $100

20. Apple Airpods, $197, Amazon

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Give Dad the gift of wireless, high quality sound. Whether he’s working out at the gym, listening to a podcast, talking on the phone, or listening to the game, Air Pods Pro are the way to go.

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21. Apple Watch, $383, Amazon

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Have Dad keep track of his health and fitness, and get notifications from all of his favorite sports teams with the flick of a wrist. The Apple Watch is the perfect gift for the Dads who are constantly on the go.

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22. Theragun, $399, Amazon

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The Theragun is the perfect gift for the fitness loving father figure in your life. It’s compact with long lasting battery life and best of all, you can connect it to your smartphone and customize its features.

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Other Father’s Day gifts for sports lovers

Gifts under $50

23. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, $16, Bookshop

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Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” is the true story of the American rowing team that competed at the 1936 Olympics and came away with a stunning gold. Made up of largely working-class athletes from the University of Washington, the U.S. team were some of the ultimate underdogs, making for an incredible story of human achievement.

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24. I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson, $9, Amazon

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Jackie Robinson is one of the most legendary and trailblazing figures in baseball, but his autobiography talks about so much more than his career on the field. From his time in the army to his family life to his involvement in American politics, “I Never Had It Made” gives the reader an in-depth look into one of the most famous athletes in baseball and in American history.

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25. MLB team sofa protectors, $45, MLB Shop

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The perfect accessory for the MLB enthusiast looking to level-up his viewing experience. Help Dad keep the couch clean, comfy, and in style while he’s rooting for his favorite sports team.

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26. Classic baseball hat, $27, Amazon

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Everyone loves a snapback hat. It’s simple and classic and helps your Dad leave no questions about where his fandom lies.

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Gifts under $100

27. Baseball Bat Mug, $70, Dugout Mug

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Get the baseball ban fan in your life a mug so unique that everyone will ask him about it! This mug was handcrafted from a wooden baseball bat barrel and you can choose a design for any MLB team. Choose Dad’s favorite team and he’ll be sure to love it!

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28. Ultra Game NBA Men’s Soft Fleece Full Zip Jacket, $60, Amazon

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This soft fleece full zip jacket is the perfect gift for the Dad who’s a big fan of a team in the NBA. No matter what team he supports, there’s a comfortable and stylish jacket to fit his needs.

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Gifts over $100

29. Foosball Table, $126, Amazon

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Foosball is a classic game that every Dad at any age is sure to love. This 48-inch game set is built with sturdy wood at a waist-high level and is the perfect gift for any competitive dad.

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30. Custom NFL jerseys, $170, NFL Custom Shop

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With all the blockbuster NFL trades so far in 2022, your Dad’s favorite player might be starting the season for a different team. The safest bet? A custom jersey with his name – QB1 might have left, but his loyalty to the team isn’t going anywhere, for better or worse!

BUY AT NFL CUSTOM SHOP

2022 Winter Olympics Freestyle Skiing: TV schedule, how to watch online, event times, dates and more

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Freestyle Skiing at the 2022 Winter Olympics takes place from Sunday, February 6, through Friday, February 18 in Beijing, China. See below for the full 2022 Winter Olympics Freestyle Skiing schedule as well as additional information on how to watch and stream every moment of the Beijing Winter Games live on NBC and Peacock. Sign up for Peacock here and watch every event at the 2022 Winter Olympics live!

RELATED: 2022 Winter Olympics – TV schedule, day-by-day viewing guide to the Beijing Winter Games

The Freestyle Skiing competition takes place at Genting Snow Park located just under 100 miles northwest of Beijing in the Zhangjiakou zone and at the Big Air Shougang in the Beijing Zone. The Big Air Shougang is the world’s first-ever permanent venue for big air and will serve as the home for future sports competitions, athlete training purposes, and cultural and civic events after the Beijing Winter Games.

RELATED: How to watch, stream the 2022 Winter Olympics live on NBC and Peacock

2022 Winter Olympics Freestyle Skiing TV Schedule:

If you’ve missed any of the action you can find access to all of the Freestyle Skiing replays here!

How to watch Freeski Halfpipe & Ski Cross, Moguls, Big Air, Aerials & Slopestyle at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Event Date/Time How to watch
Women’s Freeski Big Air Final 2/7/2022 9:00 p.m. EST NBC Olympics and Peacock
Men’s Freeski Big Air Final 2/8/2022 10:00 p.m. EST  NBC Olympics and Peacock
Mixed Team Aerials 2/10/2022 6:00 a.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Women’s Freeski Slopestyle Qualifying 2/12/2022 9:00 p.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Women’s Aerials Qualifying 2/13/2022 6:00 a.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Women’s Freeski Slopestyle Final 2/13/2022 8:30 p.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Men’s Freeski Slopestyle Qualifying 2/13/2022 11:30 p.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Women’s Aerials Finals 2/14/2022 6:00 a.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Men’s Freeski Slopestyle Final 2/14/2022 8:30 p.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Men’s Aerials Qualifying 2/15/2022 6:00 a.m. EST NBCOlympics.com
Men’s Aerials Finals 2/16/2022 6:00 a.m. EST NBCOlympics.com
Women’s Freeski Halfpipe Qualifying 2/16/2022 9:90 p.m. EST NBC Olympics and Peacock
Women’s Ski Cross Qualifying 2/16/2022 10:30 p.m EST NBCOlympics.com
Men’s Freeski Halfpipe Qualifying 2/16/2022 11:30 p.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Women’s Ski Cross Finals 2/17/2022 1:00 a.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Women’s Freeski Halfpipe Final 2/17/2022 8:30 p.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Men’s Ski Cross Qualifying 2/17/2022 10:45 p.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com
Men’s Ski Cross Finals 2/18/2022 1:00 a.m. EST NBCOlympics.com and Peacock
Men’s Freeski Halfpipe Final 2/18/2022 8:30 p.m. EST USA Network and NBCOlympics.com

RELATED: 2022 Winter Olympics Medal Count


How to stream the 2022 Winter Olympics on Peacock:

Peacock will be the streaming home of the Beijing Winter Games offering live stream coverage of every single event–that’s over 2,800 hours of Olympic action. In addition, to live stream coverage of every event, viewers will also be able to enjoy the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, NBC’s nightly primetime show, full replays of all competition available immediately upon conclusion, exclusive daily studio programming, medal ceremonies, extensive highlight clips, and more. Click here to sign up.

RELATED: 2022 Winter Olympics – Every gold medal moment of the Beijing Winter Games


How to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics on NBC:

For the second consecutive Winter Games and third overall, NBC will broadcast its primetime Olympic show live across all time zones.

What time does primetime coverage begin each night on NBC?

  • Monday – Saturday: 8:00 pm ET
  • Sunday: 7:00 pm ET

RELATED: Everything you need to know about the 2022 Winter Olympics

Be sure to follow OlympicTalk and NBC Olympics for the latest news and updates about the Beijing Winter Games!