Op/Ed: Cardboard Cutouts, TV Screens and Teddy Bears, Oh My!

Photos+depicting+how+different+major+sports+have+addressed+fans+and+social+distancing.

Jeffrey Williams

Photos depicting how different major sports have addressed fans and social distancing.

The year 2020 has proven to be a year of change, adversity and creativity. Aspects of everyday life or normalcy have changed for the foreseeable future, and various mediums followed suit.

Film, concerts and even sporting events have adopted a “lack of audience” approach that allows them still to take place with less fear of the spread of COVID-19.

With the return of the majority of postponed sports in the summer, viewers found the emptiness of their favorite stadiums quite unnerving. This moment reminded me of the empty Camden Yard as a result of the Baltimore riots in 2015. Along with baseball, basketball has returned with its “bubble.” Now that the bubble has burst, the few teams that earned playoff spots begin to faceoff with monitors displaying fans scattered throughout the stands. It’s almost like a big Zoom call with the NBA, but you don’t get called out for muting your mic.

With fall fast approaching, what will the answer for football be? Like the NCAA, others have postponed some conference schedules (as of Aug. 31, 2020). Most states that have reopened have limited attendees’ capacity from no fans to around 50% capacity. Will they follow the MLB with digital fan placements?

That’s right. Digital fans. Along with cardboard cutouts and teddy bears, the MLB has proposed using digital fan stand-ins. These fans would only appear for viewers at home. Along with this real-life video game, the MLB has proposed to pipe in fan noise from Sony’s “MLB The Show.”

By the way, these teddy bear fans aren’t equipped with gloves or anything to protect them from the blazing-fast flyballs soaring towards them. These defenseless teddy bears have already had their share of injuries. Who will stand up for the teddy bear fans, the cutout fans? I think not. Who will represent the injured bear against the offender, the Ketel Marte and the Arizona Diamondbacks? Was the bear even offered season tickets or some honey? Maybe some new stuffing to repair the trauma caused by the foul ball.

See how ridiculous this sounds? But in this strange time, the creativity and fun teams and fans are having with the situation are inspiring. COVID-19 has postponed many things in our lives or changed the ways we interact. The virtual fans, the cutouts/bears and the virtual fans are examples of different people getting to flex their creative brains. Without everyone involved with keeping things fun and “normal,” I would have gone insane already—Probably in June.

I hope that these innovations inspire others to think outside of the box. I fear that some of these changes will permanently affect how we go about our lives and entertainment. Drive-in theaters have had a resurgence with their design being perfect for social distancing. You really can’t social distance at a concert or sporting event. I want to get back to the way things were before January. I want to be able to report on something other than COVID-19 again. But this change has challenged us, like those creative minds behind the “what to do with fans” problem.

2020 has been such a bizarre time. The facade of fan interaction and attendance makes you feel like you in a simulation. Are we in a matrix? “Do you take the red pill or the blue pill?” Well, whatever pill lets me go back to concerts and games in person, give it to me.