The winners of sports’ hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic
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Here are the winners at the halfway mark of 2020, one of the most stressful, sadistic, unrelenting, unforgiving years in the history of human competition.
Michael Jordan: “The Last Dance” set the bar for documentaries in professional sports, re-establishing Jordan as an icon for the ages. At a time when statues are tumbling and monuments are crumbling, his legend has been energized. As it should be.
Roger Goodell: The NFL commissioner has enjoyed a breathtaking pandemic, forging ahead with league business; staging a perfect stay-at-home NFL draft; watching marquee quarterbacks and players switch teams; lending his public support to the Black Lives Matter movement, opening the door to a new era of player relations in the NFL.
Colin Kaepernick: He wasn’t looking for vindication. It found him.
Ian Poulter: His epic flatulence at the Travelers Championship was the greatest thing the PGA Tour has produced since its return. And it did not happen by diet or accident. Poulter’s display was surely intended to mock a PGA Tour that had begged its players to wear microphones; to some show of personality; to give a little something to the boom mic’s shadowing their every step. Careful what you wish for.
NASCAR: Taking on the Confederate flag was no small matter. Became the first major American sport to restart during a pandemic. Handled the incendiary noose incident as well as possible, with full transparency and unwavering commitment to driver Bubba Wallace.
Jeff Passan: ESPN’s baseball analyst became a leader in the next generation of news breakers while riding and chronicling the disgusting labor spat between owners and players.
Bryson DeChambeau: When golf shut down, he was impossible to watch, a weirdo who took way too much time in between shots. He returned as the Incredible Hulk, drinking six protein shakes a day, dwarfing Brooks Koepka, hell-bent on pulverizing the golf ball. Now he’s impossible to miss.
The Coyotes: They earned more than a reprieve. Our NHL team could make a Stanley Cup run or end up with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft.
Devin Booker: Won a televised video game tournament like it was nothing. Spotted on at least two occasions with L.A. celeb-icon/supermodel Kendall Jenner.
Zoom: Nearly 200 percent revenue growth. Duh.
Steve Keim: Pulled off the NFL’s heist of the century early in the pandemic, laying the foundation for all the renewed optimism surrounding the Cardinals.
College athletes: A group that has finally found its voice and its leverage. One star football player helped fuel a movement that changed Mississippi’s stage flag. Another forced Mike Gundy to apologize for everything but the mullet.
Kyle Shanahan: Kliff Kingsbury might’ve won the NFL Draft with his baller mansion, but the 49ers boss signed a six-year, $21 million contract in June, becoming one of the NFL’s highest-paid head coaches in the process.
TikTok: Experts say social media networks are like television shows. They all have a certain lifespan, an expiration date where they are no longer cool. TikTok is the big winner in this arena. Just ask your kids when they’re done making their next video.
The Astros: No player was punished in the sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball. That’s because pandemic and a labor spat have distracted our focus. Commissioner Rob Manfred has become the primary villain. And even if Major League Baseball returns, there will be no fans to administer frontier justice to a franchise that deserves much worse.
Frank Caliendo: Arizona-based comedian who created and cornered a market by imitating sports personalities has helped fill the content void with numerous contributions over the past four months, most notably his take on Bruce Arians and Pat Summerall.
The Patriots: Added Cam Newton on a bargain contract. Became the first NFL team to replace a MVP quarterback with another MVP quarterback. It’s the third time in history a team has lost and added a former MVP in the same offseason, including the 2005 Cardinals (Emmitt Smith, Kurt Warner).
Adam Silver: NBA players trust their commissioner with their lives. There could be no higher compliment.
Bucs fans: Tom Brady is a maniac on a mission, no matter how many Covid-19 rules he violates alongthe way. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski is destined to become Bruce Arians’ new favorite drinking partner. Can’t wait to see this football team in action.
J.R. Smith: Marched with protesters in Los Angeles. Thumped on a vandal messing with his truck. Signs with the Lakers, getting another chance to mess up LeBron’s postseason.
Sports: We now realize how important they are to America’s soul and well-being. And how much we miss them when they’re gone.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.