It’s been just over a year since the United States went into lockdown as a result of COVID-19. In that time, we’ve suffered losses and seen world events take shape in the culture. Sports are often a reflection of what’s happening in the rest of the world, and that has certainly been true of the last year.
In his new documentary The Day Sports Stood Still released Wednesday on HBO, director Antione Fuqua uses a mix of file footage and interviews with athletes and those connected to professional sports to tell the story of the shutdown. The film begins with powerful and eerie footage of stadiums and arenas empty and silent. It moves quickly to focus on the moment when sports stopped.
Interviews with Chris Paul, who was part of a cancelled game between his Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz, and Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban give insight to what it was like when the NBA suddenly stopped. The film includes interviews with other NBA players, like Donovan Mitchell, who got COVID early on, and Karl-Anthony Towns, whose mother died due to COVID. Many are powerful and emotional.
The film also includes interviews with athletes in other sports, like Laurie Hernandez, Mookie Betts, Michelle Wie and Kansas City Chiefs’ guard and medical doctor, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Each describe the moment the lock down began and expound on life while isolated, trying to stay ready for the time when sports might resume.
As the film moves forward, it touches on the historical and cultural explosions over the summer, specifically the incidents of violence that sparked Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the country. As sports like basketball began to emerge from COVID, these incidents and the protests nationwide weighed heavily on athletes, causing them to use their platform at games to make a difference.
The film feels a bit like a time capsule. It’s sometimes painful to relive these moments so close to when they emerged, especially since we haven’t seen a satisfying resolution to either the pandemic or the plague of violence against people of color.
The ideas here are sound and some of the interviews are interesting and powerful. Towns’ emotions and honesty in sharing about his mother and many of the athlete’s stories of what the Black Lives Matter protests meant to them draw you in. But overall, the film felt like it tried to capture too many ideas in too short a period of time without maximizing either. Clearly hampered by the ongoing pandemic and pressing to release close to the one-year anniversary, there is a disconnect between some of the interviews and the heavy use of file footage. At moments the documentary works well, but overall, as a film it’s just OK.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.