“I can only really, in some ways, applaud them in the challenge that they clearly have taken on,” said Patrick Nally, a British sports-marketing executive with deep experience in the Olympics, soccer and an array of other major sports. “At the same time, I hope that they see the need to be as responsible as they must be, and present it in a manner that really reflects the tragedy that we’re all facing.”The game represents an odd chance for an American makeover — a new year, a new administration, a new outlook. It will be a 2021 America packaged and broadcast to the world. While the N.F.L. has a chance to look really good, or really bad, in ways never imagined before, Americans may be judged right along with the league.“In many ways, they are torch-carrying for the United States as a nation,” Nally said. “If ever there was an opportunity to present, to comment, in the right, responsible manner, this is the chance of doing it.”In Mourning, or In Vegas? Other sports leagues have had a chance to address the toll of the pandemic in recent months, though not with an audience this vast or a single game this orchestrated.The issue will confront the postponed Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which were rescheduled for this July and August. Next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing will be closely watched, to see how the Chinese spin their role in the pandemic.The question of navigating something as frivolous-seeming as sports amid an ongoing crisis is not new, though there are no true historical parallels. Wartime might be the closest thing.During World War II, the Olympics were called off, but the N.F.L. and Major League Baseball conducted seasons and championships despite some players’ being pulled into duty. The N.F.L. finished its regular season on Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and held playoff games a week later, as scheduled.
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