It’s not often that the sports world comes to a grinding halt. After all, “the show must go on,” as the saying goes. But there have been times when something happens that reminds us that there are things bigger and more important than sports, causing games to stop or fans to focus on something more important. Here are some of the memorable events that actually caused the sports world to stop.
O.J. Simpson Car Chase
Simpson’s standing trial for a double murder was dubbed the Trial of the Century, but before that, there was his infamous car chase in his white Ford Bronco. Major TV networks interrupted normal programming to cover the chase, which was seen by more people than the previous Super Bowl.
Technically, games didn’t stop, but NBC decided to air Game 5 of the NBA Finals in a tiny box in the corner of the screen while devoting most of their attention to the ongoing car chase. Simpson would eventually give himself up to authorities and the car chase became a watershed moment that helped make 24/7 news coverage and reality TV more prominent in our culture.
Hank Gathers’ Death
Among the most shocking events to take place during a sporting event was the death of Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers during the 1990 West Coast Conference Tournament. Gathers collapsed during the tournament semi-finals and was pronounced dead at a hospital two hours later. He had a heart condition, although Gathers may not have taken his medication on game days because he believed it hindered his performance.
After Gathers collapsed on the court, the game was canceled, as was the rest of the WCC Tournament with the entire sports world was in a state of shock. However, the NCAA Tournament was played as scheduled the following week with Loyola Marymount playing without Gathers. The Lions made a magical run to the Elite Eight, honoring Gathers with three incredible wins, including a victory of defending national champion Michigan.
1989 Bay Area Earthquake
The 1989 World Series was one of the few in baseball history played between teams from the same metropolitan area. However, the Bay Bridge Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants was interrupted by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake roughly half an hour before Game 3 was about to start. Candlestick Park in San Francisco, which was set to host Game 3, suffered damage because of the earthquake. The Bay Bridge, which connects Oakland with San Francisco, also collapsed.
In the end, the earthquake caused the World Series to be delayed 10 days. When play resumed, the Athletics won Games 3 and 4 to sweep the series. Out of respect for the 63 people killed and thousands more injured in the earthquake, Oakland’s celebration was subdued and didn’t include champagne.
Time stood still following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sporting events of all kinds were canceled or postponed. The NFL and NCAA canceled football games scheduled for the following weekend. MLS ended its regular season with the playoffs played as scheduled starting on September 20. MLB also called off games for several days, not resuming play until September 17. It was the first time that sports in the U.S. came to a complete halt.
Of course, sports also helped the country heal and get back to normal after the attacks. On September 21, the Mets were the first team to play in New York since the attacks. Mike Piazza’s home run in the 8th inning against the Braves lifted the Mets to victory in that game and lifted the spirits of the city, including many first-responders in attendance at the game.
2020 Coronavirus Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world in a way never before seen. Some leagues were starting to take precautions, but everything changed when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus. The NBA was quick to suspend its season with the NHL, MLS, and MLB following its lead. Even the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
In a way, sports league shutting down was a sign that people need to take the pandemic seriously. People began to avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing while the sports world remained on pause indefinitely.