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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for everyone in Kansas City in ways we don’t even understand yet. KCUR is documenting those changes, one by one, through our individual stories. Share yours.

Columnist Sam Mellinger On The Uncertainty And Hope For Sports In Kansas City

Courtesy of The Kansas City Star / Jill Toyoshiba
Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger has been churning out columns and podcasts from home.

The Kansas City Star sports writer says the lack of understanding of COVID-19 creates uncertainty about the next sports season. But eventually, games will return and maybe we'll appreciate them even more for having missed them.

Sam Mellinger reassures us that sports will come back. In some form. At some time. But what that will look like remains open to question.

You’d think Mellinger wouldn’t have anything to write about, but The Kansas City Star sportswriter has been churning out columns and podcasts throughout the pandemic while fans have been rewatching last year’s Super Bowl and the World Series of 2015.

Some of his stories are COVID-19 related, like the inspiring tale about high school soccer star Kennedy Ash whose final season was canceled, along with prom and special senior days, while she cared for her sick parents.

There were the pure sports stories, too. The Chiefs and the NFL draft.

So he seemed like a good guy to help us forecast Kansas City’s sports landscape for our ongoing series The Next Normal.

“So, I guess the thing I keep looking at is people all over, sports fans, people with jobs like mine, people who work in sports for teams, all want to know these questions that you’re asking,” he says as he records himself answering a bunch of questions KCUR sent him. “Like what’s it going to be like in a couple months? And I just keep thinking, ‘Uhm, you’re not in charge, the virus is in charge.’”

That’s what the experts have been saying since sports from Little League to professional leagues were canceled with the coronavirus spread in mid-March.

Some say we won’t return to stadiums until there is a vaccine.

It’s unclear if students, and the cash cow of college sports, will return to colleges and universities in the fall.

Early on, the CDC laid out guidelines that pretty much prohibited sporting events based on their size, density and intimacy (selfies, high fives, hugs, etc.).

Cause for optimism

Even with all the uncertainty, Mellinger sees hope. He confesses that as a sports writer and sports romantic he may be biased, but he believes the games will return and they will be as exciting as ever.

The Chiefs have put out a schedule for the fall. Soccer teams are already practicing and there's talk of a baseball season, even if it is without fans.

“My guess is that baseball will have some sort of shortened season that will begin, I don’t know, around August or so,” he says.

In addition to all the practical questions, Mellinger says there are emotional ones. Some people won’t ever want to gather in large groups again. Some may have moved on. Developed new habits and hobbies. They might be over going to games.

“Just like any relationship, if somebody stops returning your calls, eventually you might lose interest.”

But the games will come back, he says, and when they do, he suspects we’ll appreciate them more for not having had them.

“I just believe in sports, I believe in the magic of sports, the memories they create and the lessons they can teach,” Mellinger says. “I can’t wait until that’s back. I understand the world will be different and it won’t be for everybody, but it sure as hell will be for me. “

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