Jul 8, 2020 - Sports

Sports in the coronavirus era might need an asterisk

A medal.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American sports leagues are back, and COVID-permitting, we're finally entering the period of uninterrupted sports bliss we've been anticipating for months.

The question: Given the unusual circumstances, it's worth considering how each season will be remembered years from now. So we pose the question: Do sports in 2020 need an asterisk?

The answer is complicated, given the wide-ranging continuum of where these seasons stood when the pandemic upended the world, along with the decades of history, tradition and statistical records that each league must honor and respect.

  • The NBA and NHL had both nearly completed their regular seasons, so division champions, statistical leaders and individual awards can be viewed without any real caveat. But what if LeBron James and the Lakers win the championship at Disney World? Will it truly be considered his fourth "ring" and the team's 17th?
  • MLS hit pause eight days after kicking off, and MLB and the NWSL had yet to even start. Entire "seasons" played amid a pandemic will surely yield more spirited debates regarding their legitimacy.

The big picture: Sometimes, asterisks are used to convey context and indicate that further explanation is necessary. Other times, they have a more negative connotation and indicate that something should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps dismissed altogether.

  • Convey context: Most everything written about the year 2020 will be followed by some sort of asterisk or parenthetical to remind people of the unusual circumstances. But that doesn't automatically mean the accomplishments therein are any less worthy.
  • Negative connotation: Barry Bonds' steroid-aided HR record doesn't have an official asterisk, but perhaps it should. Applying one (which plenty of people do in their own minds) indicates that it wasn't earned on a level playing field and should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps dismissed.

The bottom line: Sports in 2020 are unlike anything we've ever seen. But we can still enjoy them for what they are and let historians worry about applying the asterisks later.

  • And who knows, perhaps those asterisks will ultimately have a positive connotation, ensuring that future generations of fans respect each 2020 sports title as something special, rather than dismissing them as flukes.
"A lot of people say that there's gonna be a star next to this championship. I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win."
ā€” Giannis Antetokounmpo
Go deeper