COVID-19 Reveals New Leadership in Professional Sports

Tobias Harris sinks a game-winner against the Los Angeles Lakers at Wells Fargo Center.

In the most anticipated matchup of the young season for the Philadelphia 76ers, Tobias Harris nailed a game-winning jumper with little time remaining to hold off a furious Los Angeles Lakers comeback bid. Los Angeles was down 14 with just over four minutes remaining and took the lead late at 106-105. The top team in the Eastern Conference took out the Western Conference’s top team. This was especially crazy for Sixers fans, who are used to seeing their team blow colossal fourth-quarter leads.

However, there are no fans allowed for Sixers games, Flyers games or Villanova basketball games. As of last week, Phillies Nation and John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies will host selected fans for their Spring Training games in Clearwater. We saw fans, 7,500 fans to be exact, for the Eagles Week six, seven and eight matchups against the Ravens, Giants and Cowboys, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia. 

The invisibility of fans has not impacted the play of the current Philadelphia teams in action. 

With this in mind, as a Philadelphia sports fan, I have been blessed to see the Sixers, Flyers and Villanova men’s basketball team do well despite the lack of energy provided by the traditionally packed venues. The Sixers have the making of a possible championship run as Ben Simmons continues to improve at the point guard position while leveraging his defensive superiority and athleticism.  Joel Embiid is looking like an MVP with his silky-smooth jumper from the free-throw line and team improving ability with his rebounding and dishing out of a double team.  

The Flyers are building a powerful force in the Eastern Conference (second in the East Division and tied for fourth in the NHL) with the emergence of James van Riemsdyk on the power play and steady presence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. This team has the opportunity to build on its Eastern Conference Semifinals exit last season. Villanova basketball has amassed an impressive 13-3 record, a first-place sitting in the Big East and a number five ranking in the AP Poll.

All of these stellar accomplishments have come despite COVID-19 impacting all three of these teams’ seasons thus far. The Sixers had to play the Denver Nuggets, who are a formidable team out West, with only seven active players dressed for the game.  The Flyers are in the midst of multiple postponements, as they have seven players on the COVID-19 protocol list and have had their last four games postponed.  The Villanova men’s basketball team had nearly a month’s layoff after having to go into quarantine twice for COVID-19 issues within the program.  

None of these teams struggled since coming out of quarantine. The Villanova men’s basketball team is playing well with its heavy, ball-moving offense under the conductor of Collin Gillespie and shooting weapons of Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Caleb Daniels. They are rolling in conference play and gearing up towards a huge March Madness run - last Saturday’s loss at Creighton notwithstanding.

The most impressive aspect of these unusual seasons is how well these teams are navigating all the regulations and guidelines. It would be extremely difficult to not be able to see my family or be able to go places with friends. They have set the precedent that they are devoted to their craft and improving together as teams. We have seen more leadership because of this virus, as team leaders are holding everyone accountable, and if someone slips, they are reprimanded so that the team can continue to play. Players have shown they can recreate the fans’ energy to a degree by being even more engaged on the bench and in the game. While horrible in nature, this virus has certainly allowed teams to show their leadership and skill during a difficult time.