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What Does a Return to Sports Mean Post Pandemic?
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What Does a Return to Sports Mean Post Pandemic?

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This month’s author interview hits close to home. Really close.

I talked with Ed Southern, executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and author of “Fight Songs: A Story of Love & Sports in a Complicated South,” coming out this month.

Full disclosure: I have been married to this guy for the past 11 years.

Question: 2020 was a year of loss. How do you see sports fitting into this loss?

Answer: Going to a game fulfills every human need — food and drink from the concession stand, music from the band or the PA, the story told by the game itself and the community of fans all rooting together.

We missed that last one during 2020: Even though we consume the vast majority of sports we watch through TV, even watching a game on TV wasn't the same when the fans couldn't (or shouldn't) be there.

Because our love of sports is so bound up in our need for community, the 2020 seasons became a lens through which we could see what matters most to us, what we're willing to sacrifice and for what.

Far too many people were willing to risk the safety of their actual communities for the idea of community that sports offer. At the same time, sports provided a sense of connection when we needed it. I still haven't decided if sports should have been played last year.

Q: Growing up in Winston-Salem, what were your earliest memories as a spectator of local sports? And how much did that play a part in who you have become as an adult?

A: I really couldn't say for sure what my earliest memory is, but I would bet it's one of my memories of the Tiny Vikings Pop Warner football team my dad coached. I can remember sitting on the wooden bleachers and playing along the sideline.

My mom tells about the time she got too caught up in a game and didn't notice I'd toddled out onto the field. She saw me and scooped me up just before a power sweep came my way.

I also have clear memories of seeing Wake Forest football and basketball games, and Winston-Salem Red Sox minor-league baseball games, as a very young child.

Q: I know this is the theme of your book overall, but how would you succinctly describe the important impact sports have had on our culture in the south?

A: Big.

Quit looking at me like that.

Seriously, though, if I could describe it succinctly, I wouldn't have written the book. Sports in the South have enabled racism and nativism. Sports in the South helped advance integration and opportunity. Sports, for some, have been a ladder out of poverty. Sports have helped reinforce inequitable systems. Sports teach good habits and even virtue. Sports have caused and masked horrible crimes and sins. Sports are big business. Sports are fun.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about attending sporting events again this year?

A: Why, sitting next to my beautiful wife on a beautiful fall Saturday, of course.

Other than that, I can't wait for all of it, the whole shebang: packing for the tailgate, parking for the tailgate, eating at the tailgate, walking into the stadium, watching the teams warm up and then run out, letting myself get caught up in the ebb and flow of the game, even the sore throat and wrung-out feeling you get after a close one. After a year of dread and confinement, I can't wait for the scale and expanse, the noise and abandon, of a football game day.

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