Eisenberg: Why It's Important for the NFL to Stay Open


On a trip to the grocery store last Friday, I saw plenty of shoppers wearing protective masks. I also saw plenty of shoppers wearing purple Ravens gear.

Yup, in the middle of a horrific global pandemic, quite a few people celebrated Purple Friday.

Since I was carefully social-distancing, I didn't ask what prompted them to do it. But my guess is they were looking for a shred of normalcy in a world gone pretty darn mad.

For one day, or at least a few minutes, they wanted to think about Lamar Jackson running with the ball in his hands, as opposed to what's on the news.

Maybe they were ignoring reality, but mostly, I think, they just wanted to remember the rhythms and passions of their previous, normal life with the hope that it resumes one day.

They turned to the Ravens to make that statement, which got me thinking about football's role in what's going on.

I've heard/read it suggested that the NFL is wrong to carry on with free agency and the draft. People are struggling, stressed and scared. Lives are being lost. Just about everything else in our world has been disrupted or shut down. Why should the NFL be different?

I get where that sentiment is coming from. If you feel the big money being tossed around is out of step with the times, you can make the case. If you feel draft scenarios are sapping news bandwidth that health-care workers deserve, you can make the case.

But the sight of those fans celebrating Purple Friday last week – to repeat, it was quite a few – suggested to me there's another way to view it and the continuation of business as usual in the NFL has merit.

We love sports. They have their flaws and frustrations, but their capacity to inspire and bring people together is boundless. They're the happy contagion passing from generation to generation. The amount of interest they generate boggles the mind.

Right now, though, there are no sports. That entire world has gone dark, a shocking and truly unnerving jolt. Baseball's Opening Day came and went without a pitch being tossed. March Madness never happened. There's no telling when, or if, the NBA and NHL seasons will resume.

Those sports were in-season when the virus spread, leaving them no choice but to shut down and become emblematic of what's gone wrong.

The NFL, though, was not in season, so its offseason has proceeded. And if the heated chatter about the Ravens' various moves are any indication, there's a healthy appetite for it.

It seems plenty of people want a distraction, a diversion, a minute or two to ruminate on anything other than the unrelenting tragedy on the news.

They're desperate for that shred of normalcy, and for some, football is providing it.

No one should suggest it matters in the least compared to what's happening at, say, hospitals, where lives are on the line and health-care workers are performing heroically. (Thank you, thank you!) It's just something to talk about other than the matter at hand, and frankly, that's the same role football plays in normal times, when we can gather and laugh and aren't under a stay-at-home edict.

Fundamentally, sports provide a respite from the more pressing issues people face. If they don't want to think about work, school, their health, making ends meet or whatever, they can turn to the Ravens.

The team's fate isn't as important as those pressing issues they face, but the team is a point of light in their lives, a reason to shout, a subject to share with friends, a subject to share with strangers.

That was all true and important before the coronavirus and maybe even more true and important now.

I'm sure the NFL will also go dark and miss games, if not a season, if the health crisis persists long enough. Right now, though, we don't know how things will go. So I'll continue to write about the Ravens' offseason. It seems plenty of fans want an escape – not one of Lamar's; another kind of escape.

Honestly, for some, it could be that celebrating Purple Friday has never been more important.

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