The COVID-19 virus has put the sporting world, along with the sports betting on a halt with its infection rate all over the world.

The NBA was first to stop operations after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive. The NCAA basketball season was looking at playing in empty venues at first but after the cancellation of its conference tournaments, they decided to call of March Madness as well. Major League already began with its spring training but also decided to follow suit after. The NHL and NFL also did the same and almost the rest of the sporting world followed several days later. The UFC insisted that MMA would continue and they did last weekend in an empty stadium in Brazil. But on Monday, UFC President Dana White said that the promotion is canceling its next three events due to the viral scare.

But while these cancelations and suspensions are unprecedented, this isn’t the first time that sporting events have been canceled or suspended for non-labor related issues. Let’s take a look back at history and review the Top 5 events in history that caused the sports to pause:

1 – 1918 Spanish Influenza

In 1918, a deadly influenza pandemic infected around 500 million people worldwide of 27% of the world’s population at that time while claiming an estimated 17 million to 50 million lives worldwide. The disease spread quickly in the United States mainly because of U.S. troops coming to and from Europe due to World War I. Roughly around 22 million Americans were infected by the virus and an estimated 675,000 of them died. The casualties included professional baseball players from the MLB which played on despite the pandemic.

Outfielder Larry Chappell, who played for the White Sox, Indians, and Boston Braves died from the disease. The Spanish Influenza also took the lives of Negro League superstar Ted Kimbro and umpire Silk O’Loughlin who was considered as one of the best umpires in the game during his time. Baseball legend Babe Ruth, then a 23-year old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, was infected by the virus twice and he beat it both times. Ruth battled pneumonia to pitch twice in the World Series, going 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in a total of 17 innings pitched. The 1918 Fall Classic was played entirely in September.

MLB Players Using a Mask due to the 1918 Spanish Flu

But while MLB played on, the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals was canceled after five games had been played due to the Spanish Influenza. The Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans were tied with two wins each and one game ending in a draw before health officials were forced to cancel the rest of the series. The cancellation happened after most of the Canadiens’ players caught the virus with several collapsing in Game 5 due to fever. The flu led to the death of defenceman Joe Hall while Canadiens’ manager George Kennedy was permanently weakened.

With Montreal unable to field a team for Game 6, the Stanley Cup was originally awarded to the Metropolitans but the team refused to accept the Stanley Cup due to the circumstances. In the end, no Stanley Cup winner was declared and the words “Series Not Completed” were later engraved as its 1919 entry. Betting-wise, no futures bets were paid at that time.

2 – World War II

World War II was the deadliest armed conflict in the history of the human race as it claimed an estimated 70-85 million lives around the world. The global war lasted from 1939-1945 and during the war, the world’s nations were divided into two powers dubbed as the Allied and the Axis forces. The war involved over 100 million people from 30 different counties which poured in their economic, industrial, and scientific assets behind the war. It was widely believed to have been precipitated by Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

With a war of that magnitude, sports were directly affected. In the United States, American president Franklin Roosevelt allowed baseball to play on despite the onset of World War II.

Roosevelt famously penned the “Green Light Letter” to let professional baseball games continue. Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis wrote a handwritten letter to FDR in January 1942, asking the president’s advice on pro baseball’s place in wartime America. Roosevelt replied by saying that it would be “best for the country if baseball kept going”. But although the season continued, the world saw a decline in the quality of baseball with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Jerry Coleman among the major league players who served their country during the war.

But while baseball continued, a lot of major sporting events around the world were canceled because of World War II. These included the 1940 and 1944 Winter and Summer Olympic games, the 1942 FIFA World Cup, The Tour de France, the 1942-45 Indianapolis 500, 1943-45 Masters Golf Tournament, 1942-45 U.S. Open Golf Tournament, and the 1940-45 British Open Golf Tournament. Likewise, tennis’ Wimbledon Tennis Championships were not held from 1940-1945 with Britain joining the war as well.

3 – JFK Assassination

November 22, 1963, was a dark day in American history as the sitting American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding on an open car in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The motorcade rushed to the Parkland Memorial Hospital where Kennedy was declared dead about 30 minutes after he was shot by gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. That day left the entire nation mourning and Buffalo Bills team owner Ralph Wilson pushed for the cancelation of the AFL’s weekend games. AFL Commissioner Joe Foss and assistant Milt Woodard agreed with Wilson and the AFL went on to cancel its game during the weekend.

John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy on the Day of His Assassination

But while the AFL halted its play to mourn Kennedy’s death, then rival NFL continued with its scheduled games less than 48 hours after the President’s death. NFL commissioner Peter Rozelle infamously reasoned that “Football was JFK’s game. He thrived on competition.” Rozelle would go on to lead the NFL for three decades, overseeing its merger with the AFC but years later, Rozelle would call that decision “the greatest mistake of his carer”. CBS did not televise any of the NFL’s games, opting to cover the Kennedy assassination instead.

The NFL wasn’t alone in its decision to play on. The NBA also proceeded with its Saturday and Sunday schedules while NCAA College Football also played on. The NHL also played on Sunday but it was the NFL that took a hit from the public. Luckily for them, the AFL’s decision to cancel games that weekend minimized the damage Rozelle’s decision had on American Football.

4 – 9-11 Terrorist Attacks

On September 11, 2001, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks were carried out by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. A total of 19 Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial passenger airplanes from the northeast of the United States. Two of the planes were forced to crash in New York’s World Trade Center towers, while a third one was forced to ram into the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth plane was also bound for Washington but crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought off the hijackers. The incident left 2,977 people dead and more than 25,000 injured while causing an estimated $10B damage to property and infrastructure.

With the lesson learned from the JFK assassination, the NFL was quick to cancel its weekend games ad the NHL, and MLB followed suit. Collegiate football games were also suspended to mourn the tragic events that transpired on 9-11. But the hiatus wasn’t long as the NFL returned after a one-week break with patriotic displays all over the league. NFL players wore patches bearing the victims’ names while the New York Giants wore patches with the names of the first responders who died at Ground Zero.

The 9-11 tragedy delayed the Super Bowl and forced it to be played in February for the first time.

The 2011 Super Bowl was one to remember because quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots sat out the game after suffering a rib injury in a previous game. Second-year quarterback Tom Brady pitched in for Bledsoe and the former Michigan product led the Patriots to a 20-17 win. It would be the first of six Super Bowl rings for Brady and head coach Bill Belichick and the start of a dynasty that is considered one of the greatest in pro sports. New England also won as 14-point underdogs in what is the second-biggest Super Bowl betting upset in history.

As for the MLB, play resumed in New York after 10 days when the Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves in a game which proved pivotal to the healing not just of the city but of the entire nation. Later that season, the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks met in the World Series. U.S. President George W. Bush threw the first pitch in Game 3 of the series which will be remembered for Derek Jeter’s “Mr. November” walk-off homer which tied the series:

The series would go the full route of seven games with the underdog Diamondbacks winning the title behind some incredible pitching from Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

5 – Kobe Bryant Death

Another dark day in the history of sports happened just recently. On January 26, 2020, a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, 30 miles northwest from downtown Los Angeles. The chopper was supposed to Camarillo Airport from John Wayne Airport when it crashed after a rapid descent. Onboard the helicopters were eight passengers and the pilot who all died in the accident. The chopper was carrying retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, baseball coach John Altobelli and five other passengers. The crash happened at around 9:45 a.m.

The NBA games continued that day with teams and players taking 24-shot clock violations in honor of Bryant to start games.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul missed his first game of the season when he didn’t play his team’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks one day after Bryant’s death. Paul played alongside Bryant in the U.S. men’s basketball team and they competed against each other for 11 seasons. The NBA didn’t cancel its game on Sunday opting to play on to honor Bryant’s competitive spirit. Also, the Lakers didn’t have a home game that day because if they did, the league would’ve most probably suspended it. It can be recalled that the NBA also canceled a home game of the Boston Celtics in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.

However, The Lakers were slated to play their cross-town rivals Los Angeles Clippers two days later on January 28th. That game was halted and moved to April 9, 2020, to mourn Bryant’s death. As a result, the Lakers’ April 9 game against the Golden State Warriors was moved to April 7th while the L.A. Clippers’ match against the Chicago Bulls on April 8th was rebooked to April 6. A third game between the Lakers and Bulls was booked for April 8th from its original April 7 schedule. Teams around the league honored Bryant in the succeeding days and the Lakers held a public memorial last February 24, 2020. Several players honored Kobe with new tattoos, or by wearing Kobe shoes. The Lakers have worn a 24 patch in honor of Bryant. Gianna’s high school also retired her number #2 jersey and Duke University, where she wanted to play in college, made a special #2 jersey for Kobe’s daughter.

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