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Photos show a different sporting experience


March 12, 2020, is the day that sports stopped in America.

It was days before the start of March Madness. Major League Baseball teams were getting their rosters ready for opening day. NBA and NHL teams jockeyed for playoff spots. High schools were beginning their spring sports schedule. But as the coronavirus ravaged the world, our lives changed, and sports did as well.

From peewee leagues to the pros, it was inescapable. Sports and competition are engrained into American culture. Many people plan their lives around sports. When that is taken away there is a huge hole to fill.

Ingleside High School football players compete for a pass during practice Aug. 12 in Ingleside, Texas. Some athletes wore a cloth mask over their helmet for protection against illness as well as injury. Assumption High School’s Emily Ready (5) gets a ball past Mercy High School’s Allison Holloway (35) during their match at Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 8.
Ingleside High School football players compete for a pass during practice Aug. 12 in Ingleside, Texas. Some athletes wore a cloth mask over their helmet for protection against illness as well as injury. Assumption High School’s Emily Ready (5) gets a ball past Mercy High School’s Allison Holloway (35) during their match at Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 8.
LEFT: Ingleside High School football players compete for a pass during practice Aug. 12 in Ingleside, Texas. Some athletes wore a cloth mask over their helmet for protection against illness as well as injury. RIGHT: Assumption High School’s Emily Ready (5) gets a ball past Mercy High School’s Allison Holloway (35) during their match at Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 8.
ANNIE RICE, CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES; SAM UPSHAW JR., LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL
Annie Rice, photojournalist at the Corpus Christi Caller Times
For so many reasons, the start of football this season has felt different. … Usually, there is such an excitement at the beginning of the season. … Because of our county’s high positive coronavirus numbers, as well as the state’s UIL (University Interscholastic League) deciding to delay certain school classifications, it simply felt off. In many ways, it felt the same: Athletes doing drills, me looking for the key athletes and something visually different. But there would be subtle reminders that we were still in a pandemic, such as the coaches wearing masks and calling plays.

ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) slaps hands with Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez (14) after scoring a run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on July 23 in Los Angeles. Cardboard cutouts of fans fill the seats because coronavirus restrictions prevent flesh-and-blood fans from attending.

BRIANNA PACIORKA, KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL
A coach wipes down a tackling pad during the West High School football team’s first contact practice Aug. 3 in Knoxville, Tenn.

In front of an empty Drake Stadium, Sam Prakel is draped in the flag after he won the USA Track & Field Road 1-Mile National Championship with a time of 3:58 on Aug. 29 in Des Moines, Iowa.

In front of an empty Drake Stadium, Sam Prakel is draped in the flag after he won the USA Track & Field Road 1-Mile National Championship with a time of 3:58 on Aug. 29 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Brian Powers, Des Moines Register

Brian Powers, photojournalist at the Des Moines Register
There I was, at the end of August, sitting in an empty chair in the middle of an empty row, surrounded by a nearly empty stadium as the country’s best milers made their final lap around the famous blue oval of Drake Stadium. If it wasn’t for the announcer reminding the small crowd of family and staff that this was an elite USA Track & Field event, it could have been mistaken as a practice run. With no fans to help raise the hair on the back of your neck down the final straightaway, the finish may have felt a bit lackluster, but the smile on the face of winner Sam Prakel was anything but.

DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN, USA TODAY SPORTS
Cardboard cutouts replicate fans in the stands behind Serena Williams as she serves against Maria Sakkari on Sept. 7, day eight of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The cutouts honored the Black Lives Matter movement.

A contestant is introduced before Bullnanza, a Professional Bull Riders event, at the Lazy E Arena on Aug. 15 in Guthrie, Okla.

A contestant is introduced before Bullnanza, a Professional Bull Riders event, at the Lazy E Arena on Aug. 15 in Guthrie, Okla.
Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

REINHOLD MATAY, USA TODAY SPORTS
The entire Las Vegas Aces basketball team kneels during the national anthem before a game Sept. 20 in Palmetto, Fla. The stadium is empty because fans aren’t allowed inside the WNBA bubble.

The Green Bay Packers play the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 13 at U.S. Bank Stadium sans fans in Minneapolis.

The Green Bay Packers play the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 13 at U.S. Bank Stadium sans fans in Minneapolis.
Dan Powers, Appleton Post-Crescent

Dan Powers, photojournalist at the Appleton Post-Crescent
[Sept. 13] marked nearly to the day the first sporting event I have photographed in six months due to COVID-19. … The NFL has mandated that photographers are not allowed on the field due to COVID-19. So for the first time in a quarter-century, I was up in the stands making photographs instead of kneeling in the end zones and sidelines face to face with players. But the strangest part of all was the silence. I mean, it was just plain quiet.

DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN, USA TODAY SPORTS
Naomi Osaka wears a mask honoring Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed in Georgia, before her match against Marta Kostyuk on Sept. 4, day five of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.

Water bottles sit in numbered buckets for each Valley High School football player during a game at Valley Stadium on Aug. 28 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Water bottles sit in numbered buckets for each Valley High School football player during a game at Valley Stadium on Aug. 28 in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Brian Powers, Des Moines Register

Detroit Tigers pitchers celebrate in the bullpen after second baseman Jonathan Schoop hit a home run against the Cubs during the sixth inning at Comerica Park on Aug. 25 in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers pitchers celebrate in the bullpen after second baseman Jonathan Schoop hit a home run against the Cubs during the sixth inning at Comerica Park on Aug. 25 in Detroit.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

The rush to restart sports was filled with success and failures. The term “in the bubble” was as important to the NBA and its fans as “3-point shooting.” Rules had to be changed such as seven-inning double headers and starting extra innings with a runner on second base. There is social distancing, masks are required and spitting is out. But there is no bigger statement of the pandemic’s effects on sports than empty stadiums and arenas.

The logistics for fans and support staff changed. Masks and social distancing are required in the stands — if fans are allowed in the stadium at all. For professional athletes, post-game interviews happen from a distance, requiring additional equipment and thought. At high school and college levels, cheerleaders and marching bands spread out in the bleachers. 

SCOTT WACHTER, USA TODAY SPORTS
Texas Longhorns fans wear masks while watching the game against the UT-El Paso Miners at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 12 in Austin, Texas.

BRIAN POWERS, DES MOINES REGISTER
Abagael DeWild, 16, adjusts her mask as she works at Knoxville Raceway on June 6 in Knoxville, Iowa. The track welcomed fans back for the first time to see the Pella Motors/Kraig Ford Season Opener, admitting only 34% of its total capacity and following all CDC guidelines.

DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN, USA TODAY SPORTS
Matthew Wolff walks off the fourth green as fans watch from the backyard of a home alongside the course during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club-West in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on Sept. 20.

Masked spectators keep a safe distance as they watch a youth baseball game in Indianapolis on June 18.

Masked spectators keep a safe distance as they watch a youth baseball game in Indianapolis on June 18.
Thomas J. Russo, USA TODAY Sports

There have been inconsistencies and controversy, especially at the high school level where the term “Friday Night Lights” is to some as important as “God Bless America.” Calls for — and protests against — the restart of sports popped up throughout the country. Three of the “Power Five” college football conferences vowed to play on in spite of many member schools announcing virus outbreaks almost daily, and when kickoff weekend approached, several games had to be postponed because of health concerns.

The NBA Finals and World Series are just around the corner. The NFL kicked off, to mostly empty stadiums. In several states on Friday nights, the lights are on at prep football games. Sports, athletes and fans adapt and endure.

The Pike Road High School band keeps social distance before a game against Catholic High School in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Aug. 20.

The Pike Road High School band keeps social distance before a game against Catholic High School in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Aug. 20.
Mickey Welsh, Montgomery Advertiser

McGuinness student Cassius Davis hugs his mom during senior night festivities before a high school football game between McGuinness and Muskogee high schools at Bishop McGuinness in Oklahoma City on Aug. 28.

McGuinness student Cassius Davis hugs his mom during senior night festivities before a high school football game between McGuinness and Muskogee high schools at Bishop McGuinness in Oklahoma City on Aug. 28.
Sarah Phipps,The Oklahoman

Sarah Terry, photojournalist at The Oklahoman
After a summer of uncertainty with the coronavirus, Oklahoma high schools began their football season in the last week of August. And for me, for a split second tonight, life felt normal. … A quick scan of the crowds and players wearing masks signaled this season would be different. With the uncertainty surrounding the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, McGuinness moved its senior night to the first game — a tradition usually held on the last home game of the season in the cool of a November night.

DOUG HOKE, THE OKLAHOMAN
A fan follows social distancing rules to watch a youth baseball game at the A.C. Caplinger Sports Complex in Hafer Park in Edmond, Okla., on May 18.

Deer Creek cheerleaders stand in a line wearing masks during the national anthem before a high school football game between Southmoore and Deer Creek in Moore, Okla., Sept. 3.

Deer Creek cheerleaders stand in a line wearing masks during the national anthem before a high school football game between Southmoore and Deer Creek in Moore, Okla., Sept. 3.
Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

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