By Jummy Owookade ’20

While COVID-19 has forced much of the sports world to a standstill, sports journalists have to find a way to tell their stories. That was an overarching theme during The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism’s first virtual panel, held Wednesday night via Zoom.

During the panel, titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Sports World,” a cast of  University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism graduates discussed how the pandemic has affected sports worldwide and how sports can be covered in these unprecedented times.

The panel, moderated by Merrill College professor Kevin Blackistone, featured Bonnie Bernstein ’92, Frank Isola ’90, Daniel Oyefusi ’19 and Jimmy Roberts ’79.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the virus, there isn’t a viable timeline for when sports can resume as normal – assuming they will at all. Will games be played without fans moving forward? What are the financial ramifications for leagues and players? How will college athletics be affected? And how are journalists supposed to cover it all?

Bernstein, founder of Walk Swiftly Productions, said journalists should be given “a bit of leniency“ for how they’ve covered sports during this pandemic, as there is no precedence for what the world is facing.

The limitations that the pandemic has presented, however, did not catch the panelists by surprise. Oyefusi, a sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun, has had to transition to covering news but said he was fully prepared because of his education at Merrill College. Roberts, an NBC and Golf Channel sportscaster, recalled having to film by himself during the 2008 Olympics when he wasn’t paired with a videographer.

“We’re evolving constantly, and I think this is going to nudge us toward certain realizations that there are certain economies that we can take advantage of just like other businesses,” Roberts said.

One avenue of sports that is still functioning and especially thriving in this climate is eSports. Because gaming is fully virtual and requires nearly no face-to-face interaction, many leagues, teams and players have invested in connecting with their audiences with video games, such as NBA 2K and iRacing.

Oyefusi said he has spent a lot of his downtime playing video games and has followed the rise of eSports before the pandemic. He said he still is now with leagues finding ways to engage their audiences virtually. The NBA, for example, is hosting a players-only NBA 2K20 tournament Friday, which will pit 16 players from 16 teams against one another in bracket-style play.

“When there is an absence of sports, we look for any type of competition to fill that void, and that’s where eSports is coming in,” Oyefusi said.