Hellllloooooooooooo to both die hard sports fans and people who have heard the term ‘sports’ (but aren’t 100% sure what it is) aaaaaand everyone in between!
While most of us are still collegially bunkering in an effort to stop the spread of Covid, some domestic and international sporting organizations have begun to get back to work, often in ‘bubbles’, to bring you the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
For as long as you can stomach it, I’ll walk you through the various leagues and give you an update on what’s happening.
A few months ago the only quasi-athletic thing we had was watching a masked Chris Pine lug a shitton of bagged books into his car, but now there’s a cargo plane of quality sporting going on.
Note: I don’t watch every sport, so if your favorite league doesn’t show up below, please feel free to update us in the comments!
To my knowledge, all leagues have allowed for ‘opt-out’ language which allows players to choose not to play this season, and many players have chosen to sit this one out.
Also, unless otherwise specified, all of these leagues are operating without fans watching in the stands. It’s sort of a bizarre feeling, and some leagues are actually piping in crowd noise to their broadcasts.
So let’s start meandering through the amazing world of sports, in no particular order other than where the medicine ball in my head bounces.
NWSL - The National Women’s Soccer League
Women’s pro soccer was the first league back to business during covid, implementing a bubble format which kept all of the players and staffs in a protective quarantine. Rather than a full season, the NWSL had a tournament which included everyone but the Orlando Pride, who recused their invitation over a few positive tests of players.
Despite the North Carolina Courage being heavy favorites, they were ousted by the Portland Thorns when their third string goalkeeper, Britt Eckerstrom, denied the Courage at every turn.
I mean, Eck robbed Brazilian superstar Debinha at least three times. Those saves are stupid good.
Ultimately, the tournament was a feel-good story as the once-derided and perennially dominated Houston Dash came from worst to first to win the ‘Covid Cup.’
Shea Groom’s soaring header at 0:30 was my favorite goal of the tournament. You can go your whole career as a soccer player and not get to sky and hang like that and crush a perfect header. It was beautiful.
UPDATE: The NWSL just announced that regional matches will begin September 5th
MLB - Major League Baseball
America’s favorite pastime took a hit to their regular season with the covid outbreak but is now in the midst of a shortened regular season. Each team has been required by the league to have a mandatory covid compliance officer on staff after a late July outbreak of covid on the staff of the Miami Marlins that saw 16 players test positive, in addition to a number of staff members.
Status: Regular Season in Progress
So far the bats are talking for many of baseball’s old guard. The Dodgers are the best team in the land right now with a 22-8 record. Hot on their heels are the A’s, the Twins, the Yankees and the Rays.
Here’s Houston Astros pitcher Zach Greinke lobbing in an old-school ‘eephus pitch’ against San Diego’s Trent Grisham last week. You don’t see these every day. How archaic is the eephus pitch? Digging in for a fastball and getting an eephus pitch is like opening TikTok on your phone and instead it’s a geocities site with flashing toasters.
Can’t argue with the result.
With my Red Sox in tatters this season I’ve adopted the San Diego Padres as a fun team to get behind. Fernando Tatis Jr, at only 21 years old, is leading the National League in homers, RBIs and runs and has that crazy Deon Sanders / Bo Jackson ‘I’m a different tier of athlete’ energy. The Padres as a team had five grand slams last week alone! Here’s a video of Tatis hitting dingers:
…and here’s the type of defensive plays this shortstop is capable of. It’s siiiiick.
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and much of the conversation around Tatis has been a grand slam he tattooed out of the park on a 3-0 pitch while his team was up by six and the resultant fallout of that choice. You may have heard a lot of chatter about baseball’s “unwritten rules” surrounding this (non-)incident.
This explainer will catch you up. It’s a decent explanation.
NBA - National Basketball League
The NBA jumped back into session on July 30th with a truncated regular season, followed by a seeding round to determine playoff standings.
Status: Playoffs Round 1
Lots of outstanding matchups everywhere you look, with many knotted up at 2-2 in a best of seven series. So far, only two teams are eliminated: the 76’ers and the Nets, after being swept by the Celtics and Raptors, respectively.
In the same way Tatis is turning heads in baseball, there’s a second year player who’s leaving a cavalcade of open jaws in his wake. Slovenian sensation Luka Dončić has been lighting it up for the Dallas Mavericks against the favored L.A. Clippers in round one. It’s triple-double after triple-double for Dončić, just absolutely putting the Mavs on his back. Here’s him draining a three at the buzzer.
And here’s a highlight reel of one of his triple-doubles.
The Mavs are a 7th seed and not expected to advance, but when you have a player like Dončić, announcing his presence with Nuke Laloosh-like authority? The sky’s the limit. I’ve already heard whispered comparisons to the feeling of an ascendant, LeBron-like vibe to him, though time will certainly tell.
UEFA - Union of European Football Associations Europa Cup
Every year the various national soccer leagues send their best players to compete for the highly coveted Champions cup. The rest of the best, who don’t qualify for that prestigious league, end up as a late-week filler for fans who can’t go three days without watching grown men try to kick a circle into a rectangle. We call this the Europa League and it’s…okay.
This year’s Europa Cup bracket looked like this:
And it finished on Friday when Sevilla beat Inter Milan. I’m a big fan of Inter striker Romelu Lukaku but his own goal was, to quote Charles Barkley, turrible.
Congrats to Sevilla! I’m pretty sure it’s their seventh Europa Cup.
UEFA - Union of European Football Associations Champions Cup
Now we get to the real meat and potatoes of soccer, or futbol if you’re nasty. It can be tough watching hockey and then switching to soccer because of all the flopping and diving and grown men who throw themselves to the grass with a yelp of excruciating pain every time a hummingbird’s wing glances off of them.
There are a lot of reasons why soccer has a hard time catching on in the US of A. Low scores, “HOW CUM THEY DON’T JIST PICK UP THE BALL N THROW IT?” and of course, that every youth in a sport, developmental athlete and potential soccer star plays football or basketball or baseball instead.
But the flopping, man.
The flopping has honestly gotten so so so much better but it’s still a real element of the game.
And not enough red cards. I want more red cards. In my soccer fantasy: you wrap up a guy with your hands as he runs by you? Red Card. You dive and VAR (video assistant referee) shows you weren’t even touched? Red card. You’re a VAR booth official who calls back a goal based on someone’s toe being over the ‘red line’? Red card.
But all that said, this was a super fun Champions League if you live in Munich or the greater Munich area or Bavaria proper or Bavaria adjacent.
I’m not going to say that the outcome was a given, but I’ve rarely watched such domination. The only teams that seemed to have the roster to take on Bayern were PSG and Man City and the latter got shocked by Olympique Lyonnais despite peppering the OL keeper in the quarterfinal.
I mean, this is how Bayern dispatched perennial powerhouse and most-expensive-team-in-the-world, Barcelona in their own quarterfinal. Yeah, that’s not a typo. It was 8-2.
YouTube comments are like the dumbest shit in the universe, but this comment cracked me up:
Ultimately, it was Bayern vs Paris Saint-Germain in the final on Saturday and with a few bounces for PSG it might have gone the other way. But if you watched the game, Bayern was just dominant. Controlling play at all times. After halftime I started counting out loud whenever PSG had control of the ball “one one-thousand, two one-thousand,” etc and I never made it past 7 before they gave it away or Bayern outright took it. 22 wins in a row for Bayern and the only time a team has won every match in the Champions League. In my heart I was pulling for PSG and Kylian Mbappé, but I have to admit Bayern rightly deserved the win.
NHL - National Hockey League
I don’t know if I love anything in sport as much as playoff hockey. Maybe the Olympics. Maybe a really, really good World Cup match. But playoff hockey is So. Goddamn. Fast.
Hockey is a sport you don’t watch unless you played it or someone actively turns you on to it. Once you understand what the blue lines are for, you’re halfway there.
And evolved, articulate people like your typical Pajiban don’t get the fighting. It seems barbaric. I know. Believe me, I know. But I always try to explain it like this: Hockey is the only sport with social control. Every league has rules and every league has some form of officials who are the arbiter of those rules. And in every league you still see bullshit that they miss, that doesn’t get called, or that lives in a grey area where the players know they can get away with it.
There is no grey area in hockey.
In hockey, you just get punched.
Anyone who gets punched in hockey:
a) Deserved it
b) Knew that it was coming
Take politics, for example. There are a bunch of emoluments clauses that the current administration is breaking with impunity. If this was happening in hockey, they’d still be breaking them, but every time they did, Jared Kushner would get punched in the face. Trump would get punched in the face. Steve Mnuchin would get punched in the face.
Every. Single. Time.
I certainly understand how, in a civilized society, we would hope that people live inside the shared laws of a community. But they don’t. They just don’t. Some jerk always takes advantage. If the housing crisis were hockey, yes, there still wouldn’t be anyone arrested for fleecing the country, but all of them would have gotten their asses kicked.
When you’re waiting at an exit on the highway in traffic and some dick in a BMW flies past the whole line and cuts in right at the last second? He gets away with it and 200 people watching it grumble and shake their heads.
In hockey, he’d get punched.
It’s not personal. The punch doesn’t come from a place of anger or vindictiveness. It comes from a place of balance. Everyone else was in line, you chose to cut, we saw it, now you get punched. Simple. Basic.
But more than that, it’s a way to clean yourself through discomfort. In America, someone commits a crime, we try and convict them, they serve their time and then they come out with a record and a stigma against them. We shame them and we label them and they’re always dirty.
In hockey, with very few exceptions like when weaselly dirtbag Ulf Samuelsson ended Cam Neely’s career with a cheap shot, you can be made clean again. You can serve your time and take your licks and come out okay on the other side.
Let me illustrate this with a great scenario that happened last week. It begins in the series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders.
Here we see Islanders captain Anders Lee sailing in and cheap-shotting Caps alternate captain Nicholas Backstrom. (At the 0:07 mark)
Hockey teams have captains and alternate captains, who are like lieutenants. Only captains and alts can talk to the referees and they have a higher status on their teams, being elected leaders who represent the players on the ice. You could be a great player and never be elected captain or alt because your teammates think you’re a prick. Likewise, you could be kind of an average player but a veteran and a mensch and be elected captain or alternate captain as a sign of respect by your teammates.
So, you have two players. Anders Lee, captain. Nick Backstrom, alternate captain.
It’s obvious that Lee tries to pull up and not destroy Backstrom at the very end, but it’s still a blind hit, and more importantly, it’s a LATE hit. The puck is nowhere near the hit and has been gone for more than a second when Lee hits Backstrom. It’s Backstrom’s responsibility to not open himself up to hits like that, but it’s also Lee’s choice whether to follow through with a hit that could potentially hurt a guy.
Lee makes the hit. It looked to me like he wasn’t sure if Backstrom had the puck and when he realized he was like “oh shit” but he still made the hit.
To anyone who knows hockey, it’s a late hit. It’s obvious.
Immediately, he’s charged and grabbed by John Carlson, one of Backstrom’s teammates, and also an alternate captain.
Now there’s a lot cooking in this scenario already.
First of all, the play happens less than three minutes into game one of a best of seven series, so there are considerations of tone-setting and physicality. Are the Capitals okay getting cheap-shotted that early in a series? What does it say about their tenacity if they just take that kind of hit without standing up for themselves?
Secondly, Lee is a captain. In the old days, only another captain (or an alternate) could hit a captain but I’ve seen over the years those rules have changed a little bit. Still, Carlson is an alternate and his job is to represent and therefore, protect, his fellow teammates. So he’s well within his rights to grab Lee immediately and start to scrap with him.
The result of the play? Lee goes to the penalty box and Backstrom leaves the game, injured on the play.
Lee is known as a tough, gritty player but isn’t thought of as a ‘dirty’ player. That factors in here. Backstrom is a respected veteran and role model, widely liked around the league. That also factors in, as does the fact that the hit actually took him out of the game.
So now, Lee has served his time in the penalty box. Is he clean? Can both teams kiss and make up?
No. Not by a longshot. Because Backstrom is out and no one knows for how long. Yes, everyone can see that Lee truly didn’t follow through and annihilate Backy, but from a hockey perspective, Lee hasn’t paid yet. The penalty doesn’t count. He made a choice and he still has to actually pay.
Anders Lee is, from this point forward, a marked man.
And you hate to be a marked man. It suuuuucks. So it’s almost with relief that, just before the period ends, Lee hops over the boards to take his shift and he sees big Tom Wilson from the Capitals bearing down on him.
The key thing here is at the 0:38 mark, Lee sees Wilson and immediately drops his gloves. He knows what’s coming and he takes it, head on. He doesn’t shy away or try to skate away or turtle. He drops the gloves and charges Wilson. Wisely, by the way. Lee closes the gap on Wilson and locks him up like a pro. That’s the smartest thing he did because you don’t want to get knocked out with a haymaker before you’re in tight.
Then Wilson goes to work. He’s got a job to do and his job is to punish Lee for the choice he made to hit a defenseless Backstrom, and Wilson knows his business. He pounds on Lee.
The officials are acutely aware of the dynamics at play. They stay back, allowing the fight to take place, but mindful of the fact that Lee absolutely cannot be beaten too badly. Lee is a captain, Wilson is an enforcer. That wouldn’t be a fair 1 to 1 trade if they were both removed from the game with Wilson ejected for fighting and Lee incapacitated. So once Lee is knocked around a bit? They jump in.
Wilson is immediately ejected from the game for instigating the fight, job done. He skates off to hit the showers and will be patted on the back and praised by his teammates for standing up for Backy.
Lee goes to the penalty box again. But this time, he’s clean. He’s paid his dues. When faced with his punishment, he took it. That gains him respect from both teams. The players on both benches tap their sticks against the boards (a hockey clap, if you will) and now the game resumes with no hard feelings. Or not as many, anyway. Lee will almost certainly check on Backy after the game, and the two might have a beer with Wilson. It’s very rarely personal. But most importantly, justice was done and everything is right in the world.
I feel like a goddamn relic trying to justify violence of any kind, but in my experience, that’s what bizarrely makes hockey safer: the social control that every player knows to stick to the rules or else. In American football, by comparison, you regularly see players cheap shot, break the rules or otherwise try to actually injure their opponent. They hit low, try to bend joints the wrong way and gouge eyes. In hockey, any of that nonsense would get you pummeled. Hell, in hockey, someone from your own team might beat you up in practice for pulling that shit. Trying to actually hurt someone in hockey is anathema to the game. No one does it, not even enforcers. In fact, enforcers or “goons” are often best friends off the ice. I’ve seen actual family members get in fights on the ice. It’s not personal. There’s an understanding that all hockey players agree to, and if you break it, well, then you pay.
I’m not saying this should or would apply to a sport like tennis, where collisions aren’t inherent to the game, but it adds a level of nuance to hockey that purists like me really like. It’s not about the punching, it’s about social control. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Status: Playoffs round 2
Lots of great hockey in round one, but even better hockey on the docket for round two.
I know certain teams are favored, but I honestly have zero idea who’s going to win the Stanley Cup this year. That’s how great the competition is and how evenly the teams are stacked. Wherever you live, there’s plenty of great hockey to go around and plenty of teams to root for.
Note: Sorry to long time Pajiban Uriah_Creep as his Habs were knocked out in the first round. It’s only because — and I’ll try not to get too technical here — they suck.
Here’s a video of all the goals in round one. God I love hockey.
NFL - National Football League
The NFL is in its preseason, and while all the usual preseason games have been cancelled, teams are still having training camps for players who didn’t choose to opt out.
No preseason games means that people like me who pick their fantasy football team defense based on preseason week 3 are going to get hamstrung in fantasy this year.
Lots of exciting new wrinkles to teams this season, most notably the fact that Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot. He’s now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join him in Tampa.
Still, the best headlines are around the best teams and there’s lots of excitement around the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl Champs, and their new lightning-fast running back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Like the Chiefs needed more speed!
As the BLM movement has gained momentum, the NFL has taken fake strides to pretend to care about Black athletes so that feels like a step in the right direction until you remember that they’re all trash and hypocrites and how they blackballed Kap. Ahhh, the good old days when Roger Goodell was the worst person in the world. Now he doesn’t even crack the top 50. Nothing resuscitates the image of a corporate scumbag like a whole political party full of bigots and traitors and bigger corporate scumbags.
As always, football is captivating and the NFL is hot garbage. Catch it! The season kicks off September 10th.
WNBA - Women’s National Basketball Association
I’ve been absolutely blown away by some of the athletes in the WNBA and I just can’t stress enough how exciting and empowering it is to see strong, vibrant women using their platforms for good. Earlier in the Covid season many WNBA and USWNT (soccer) players and celebrities shared their Instagram accounts with women of color as part of the #ShareTheMicNow campaign to magnify Black voices and help them reach a larger audience. It was AMAZING. I can’t tell you how many memorable stories I heard and lessons I learned from that event.
But perhaps the most inspiring social justice undertaking was that of WNBA superstar Maya Moore, who sat out last season to assist in seeking the release of Jonathan Irons after a questionable conviction.
It’s just so inspiring. My goodness.
Anyway, the WNBA season is in full swing! The Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm are out to early leads in their respective conferences, even though the Storm have dropped the last two. Play will continue to mid-September when we’ll get some juicy playoff matchups. Here’s the tentative schedule:
July 25: Regular Season Begins
Aug 7: Waiver Order Resets
Aug 17: Mid-season Cut Down Date
Aug 18: Mid-season
August 28: Trade Deadline, 8:00 pm ET
September 6: Player Playoff Eligibility From Waivers, after midnight
September 12: Regular Season Ends
September TBD: Playoffs Begin
October TBD: Last Possible Finals Date
I’m usually a Seattle Storm fan because of Sue Bird and Ezi Magbegor, but I’ve really been enjoying catching some of A’ja Wilson’s play for the Las Vegas Aces. She’s been solid as hell this season.
The Kentucky Derby, which was postponed back in May, will finally take place on September 5th. It was the first time in 75 years, since World War II, that the race hasn’t taken place on the first weekend of May.
The Preakness, also postponed, will now occur on October 3rd.
To wrap up the esteemed triple crown races, The 152nd running of The Belmont Stakes took place this past June where New-York bred Tiz The Law blew away the field by more than four lengths.
God what a beautiful run! I mean, he’s no Barbaro, but awesome, nonetheless. I swear Tiz The Law looks like he’s kind of looking off to his right and casually sightseeing as he thumps the competition.
For those of you who don’t get my Barbaro reference, here’s the 2006 Kentucky Derby.
And here’s more about Barbaro, who tragically broke his leg two weeks after the Derby while running the Preakness. He was just a great, memorable horse, for some inexplicable reason.
MLS - Major League Soccer
The MLS season returned in July with the MLS is Back tournament featuring all 20 MLS teams. The Portland Timbers won the whole thing, which landed them a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
Here’s a bit more about the MLS is Back tournament:
After the tournament’s conclusion on August 11th, the interrupted MLS regular season has now resumed.
Phase 1: Teams will play six games versus regional opponents before September 14th. (With the exception of Dallas and Nashville who have to make up a few missed games).
Phase 2: A total of 18 clubs will qualify for the postseason in 2020. The MLS Playoffs will begin on Nov. 20, culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
College football is about to start their season in conferences that have opted to allow fall sports. The Mac, the Big 10, the Pac-12 and Mountain West have all shut down fall sports. Conference-USA is still TBD.
The rest will play a shortened or conference-centered schedule, varying by conference. You can see all the plans here.
This one’s still up in the air as the league tries to find a good solution. According to CBS, it looks like there are four possible outcomes:
First practices allowed: Sept. 29
First day of season: Nov. 10 (No change to start of season)
First practices allowed: Oct. 9
First day of season: Nov. 20
First practices allowed: Oct. 14
First day of season: Nov. 25
First practices allowed: Oct. 24
First day of season: Dec. 4
The U.S. Open will kick off just about a week from now on August 31st. Several lower tier players have opted out, but as of now, all the big names seem to be ready to go.
UPDATE: Apparently a number of higher profile players are also out.
That said, my favorite thing about tennis of late is this ad for Barilla Pasta starring Roger Federer. I can’t remember such a shamelessly obvious ad being so damn compelling.
(I know I’m not the only one who loved it - it’s got 22 MILLION VIEWS since July 31st)
Bravo to, I’m guessing, the Madison Ave witch doctors who came up with this concept.
Federer, man. Whew.
Gallagher Premiership Rugby is back and not a moment too soon. I caught a fun match this weekend where Coventry’s Wasps came back to beat the Worcester Warriors 32-17.
I’m still learning the subtleties and intricacies of the sport but every match I watch is super fun. I also caught the Exeter Saints in a huge comeback vs the Leicester Tigers. Watching Jordan Taufua hulk-smash through a tackle at the 2:15 mark is sweetness.
Still a fan of the Bristol Bears, too, though. That’s a great name.
And the Saracens have a scrum-half by the name of Richard Wigglesworth which just feels like a punchline name, but he’s actually damn good. I honestly don’t know how you root against any of these big, thick beauties. I love them all.
We’re in week 16 of 22, with the regular season set to finish in early October.
Barclays FA Women’s Super League
Another women’s soccer league has been in the news lately for luring away a number of stars from the Unites States Women’s National Team. Midfielders Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have both signed with Manchester City. Sammy played her first game for Man City and came away with a goal and two assists, which is a hell of a first day.
Watch the full highlights of @sammymewy's debut with — and first goal for — Man City here! 🤩— Manchester City US (@ManCityUS) August 23, 2020
Mewis featured for 45 minutes in a 4-1 friendly win vs. Everton and also notched two assists 🙌#ManCity #USWNT pic.twitter.com/Plwi49R1hS
I’m crazy about all the women on the USWNT, but I might be forced to root for Manchester United for the first time ever if they follow through signing Christen Press and Tobin Heath.
It can be a bit tough to find news about the FA Women’s Super League here in the states, but it looks like this is going to be a fun season.
Aaaaaaaand that’s what’s happening in the wide wide world of sports! I’m sure there’s all kinds of teams I missed. I know less than nothing about cricket, though I’ve caught a few highlights here and there. But feel free to jump into the messages and hit me with your favorite sports info!
Now, I have to start preparing for my upcoming fantasy football draft, which is about the extent of my physical activity these days. It’s going to be virtual for the first time in 18 years instead of all of us getting together for the best weekend of the year and as you might imagine, it feels like a goddamn dirge. (Luckily I have Lamar Jackson as a keeper for short money to cheer me up).
Good luck in your various fantasies, be they sports-related or not, and thanks to everyone who made it this far!
Header Image Source: Getty Images