Andrew Simon is Grist's director of leadership programming


This essay was first published in our semi-weekly newsletter, Climate in the Time of Coronavirus, which you can subscribe to here.

Two weeks ago, I finally did it. I played tennis during the coronavirus pandemic.

A friend and I headed to a local court in Seattle. It was 80 degrees, sunny. We practiced many of the recommended safety measures: We each wore wristbands to wipe sweat from our faces and a glove on our off hand (the one that typically touches the ball); we used lots of hand sanitizer during breaks; we kept our distance; we even brought two cans of balls with the idea that we’d each only touch a dedicated few, though that fell apart pretty quickly.

It was the first time I had played in the last two months, and it felt amazing. The rhythm of volleying the ball back and forth. The adrenaline rush of hitting a clean forehand, the cool breeze wafting across the court. For a moment, life was simple again: breathe, watch the ball, swing, repeat.

I miss playing sports. They are my connection to nature. I’m not your camping or hiking type of outdoor person. I grew up playing Little League Baseball, rec soccer, and pick-up basketball. Getting better at these activities were my mountains to climb.

I also miss watching sports. LeBron James firing a dime (translation: pass) through the defense. Serena Williams crushing an overhead. Megan Rapinoe posing wide-armed, like a serene soccer goddess, after a goal. Call these moments distractions if you like, but now that most major sports leagues are, quite rightly, on hold due to coronavirus, I realize our athletic pastimes can offer much more than an excuse to “yell at the TV” (as my wife likes to say). Sports give us hope.

When we turn on a game, we hope like hell that our team wins. We hope that our favorite athlete does something scintillating. Sure, sometimes our team comes up short, or our personal MVP misses the big shot. We might grieve a loss like the world is ending. But then we tune in again (and again and again if you’re a masochistic Jets fan like me) because we believe.

And now that the world is ending (or, at least, it feels that way), we need hope more than ever. We have to believe that we’re going to collectively beat this pandemic. We have to believe that we can win against climate change. Pick your played-out sports metaphor: It’s the bottom of the ninth, it’s the end of the fourth quarter, it’s the final penalty shoot-out — but for humanity.

The tools to overcome these crises are at our fingertips, as we report here at Grist every day. As hard as things get, we have to believe we can win. Which is why, once it’s safe, sports can’t return fast enough for this fan.

As for my tennis friend and me, we ended up playing a short tiebreaker. I won’t bore non-sports fans with the particulars, but he won 12-10. And I couldn’t have felt more hopeful.