Over the last six months the nation has become more polarized than at any time since the Civil War. There are plenty of political, geographical, ethnic and economic reasons for the divisions that now exist in our country.

But there is one reason those divisions have been so pronounced:

The lack of sports.

From a historical perspective, 2020 is the year from heck. Racial injustice remains a massive problem. The coronavirus pandemic continues. Massive wildfires have plagued the West Coast, while hurricanes batter the East Coast.

Throw in a contentious election and everything then is viewed through a partisan lens, with everyone looking for blame to throw at the “other side.”

Under normal circumstance the great escape from natural and man-made disasters has always been sports. Nothing unifies a community or population more than rooting for the same team. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, young and old, can often find common ground in sports. Whether it’s an NFL team in an economically depressed city, or a university team in a college town, people can find a reason to come together and discuss, cheer and yes, boo, with a common purpose.

And even those who aren’t sports fans, like some wives and girlfriends I know, can find benefits from the celebratory or depressing nature (if the team is losing) during a sports season. They can find others of like disinterest to confide in and joke about how intense the sports fans are.

It is kind of a reverse psychology that serves the same ends — a distraction from other things going on. In this case, everything else.

That’s why sports taking a hiatus during the pandemic helped compound all the other issues. It is understandable that sports was put on the back burner, but we underestimated the psychological relief sports can provide during such tough times. When the NBA found a way to play games in a bubble on television, it became a practical solution to bringing back a much-needed diversion.

In a year where good days seem in short supply, sports has delivered.

“Three months ago, there was nothing,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m thankful that there’s something now.”

The NBA has shown how it can be done and other sports are taking notice.

The NFL and college football roared back last week, although the separate COVID-19 regulations in each state provided for an inconsistent fan presence. But that didn’t stop the games from being played. And if I could get political for one moment, if everyone would just embrace mask-wearing, we would probably have more progress in bringing back sports and other entertainment venues.

After only one game, everyone is talking about the Arizona Cardinals, which has cut into the amount of chatter about the Trump cult or the leftist mob.

Prep football will kick off next month here. Even the PAC-12 is considering playing a limited schedule starting at the end of October, which has me conflicted.

On top of everything else this year, I passed a kidney stone last month. A very painful experience. So 2020 got personal.

As a University of Arizona alumnus, I supported the cancellation of the season this year. You see, the UA is expected to have a lousy team.

I believe I have suffered enough.

But that is the strength of sports, you can always find a new team to cheer on.

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Andy Howell can be contacted at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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