Yes, There are Things to be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

Gabe Zaldivar

My living room, a relatively small patch of hardwood floors out in Venice, Calif., has become something more this year.

It’s been a place to watch TV, sure. But it’s also become a playground for my two young boys who are too young to know who Stone Cold is but sure do have the stunner down. And their timing of when to wrestle is impeccable too, right around my turn to speak during Zoom meetings.

This room has also been a classroom for my four-year-old who has to see friends through the eye of modern technology. It’s been a romantic getaway for the wife and I during a year when we couldn’t go anywhere.

The living room is also where we all witnessed—some of us well past bedtimes—the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988. That year I was eight. One of my earliest beloved memories was Kirk Gibson’s iconic shot to right field.

Now 32 years later and my sons were running around this little patch of paradise in the kind of sports euphoria they didn’t understand and probably wouldn’t remember.

But I will.

2020 has been, well, go ahead and toss out whatever adjective that fits your life. For me it’s been the purveyor of extreme anxiety and stress, loneliness and depression. But wedged in there are certainly smiles and the kind of laughter that fills a desolate room.

This Thanksgiving is going to be a little different. Even if you manage to travel it’s not with the same ease as before. And the normal stress of holiday travel is tinged with the possibility of infection.

But there is always room at the Thanksgiving table for something more. And for sports fans, there is certainly moments in 2020 that shine, that keep is moving forward with optimism that the years to come will be that much better.

On Monday night, an all-Black officiating crew took the field for the first time in NFL history. It was an historic moment delivered against the backdrop of an unsettling season. It was one reason among many to, dare I say, be thankful.

For so much of the year sports have been an afterthought, ratings have plummeted as fans have flocked to news outlets as a pandemic raged and an election unfolded.

The normal respite that was sports just doesn’t seem all that soothing when NBA and WNBA players are competing in a bubble or college football players are playing out the season amid one positive test after another. Guilt most definitely plays a part in watching a game and knowing the sacrifice it takes to actually step foot on the court this year.

The echoes of so many protests crying out for social justice continue to ring with every day that passes. So, yes, it’s hard to fathom being grateful during the 2020 edition of giving thanks.

But there is still a multitude of reasons to be thankful.

2020 was a year with a lot of great sports stories. Perhaps you have your favorites. For me, I’m still very much smitten with 21-year-old Chris Nikic’s story of perseverance.

From a young age, he was told that he wouldn’t do very much with his life. He just became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman event.

Years of training and arduous days running and biking and swimming led to one 17-hour event that changed not just his life but the minds of so many people quick to put a limit on what differently-abled people can do.

Chris, thanks for the early mornings and the long nights. And thanks for believing in yourself, because you gave us all a lesson in inclusivity.

This year like so many before it unfolded with further proof that this country is imbued with so much hatred and animosity. Social reforms are needed now more than ever.

But we also saw that just a few years removed from Colin Kaepernick being villainized for simply kneeling in peaceful protest, waves of athletes used their platforms to call for change. And instead of being lambasted with hate, the country largely listened.

Now there are years of education ahead of us. Kaepernick is still being ostracized from a sport still entrenched in archaic thinking. And it would be ridiculous to think a few months of marching would change systemic issues that plague so many corners of society.

But there has been change, and you can see it in the outstretched arm of LeBron James.

You notice it in the proud protests of WNBA players adamant that their message was more important than wins and losses.

Athletes were over sticking to sports in 2020, and for that I am so very thankful. LeBron launched a More Than a Vote initiative and website to stem the tide of voter suppression.

It’s just one small way athletes have moved the needle. Jemele Hill recently explained, via the L.A. Times, that the more athletes embrace these hard discussions the less major media outlets can impede the discourse.

“I’m pleased with the progress that has been made, but we have to be careful with how much credit we’re giving out,” Hill said, via the Times. “A lot of it has to do with the fact the athletes were no longer giving media companies room to wiggle out of it and forced the conversation. Either you were going to follow what they were saying and what was important to them, or you were going to ignore what some of the most prominent athletes in the country have to say.”

Change comes slowly. But one athlete invoking change can trigger something special. Or, as it has happened recently, hard work over a lifetime can shatter the glass ceiling.

Kim Ng never gave up, and for that I am so very thankful. Apropos of a changing landscape, Ng became the first female to helm an MLB franchise. She is now the general manager of the Miami Marlins.

It’s insane that it took this long for something like that to happen. But it happened just the same. And representation in major league baseball means that any boy and any girl can now grow up thinking they can run a ballclub and make the hard decisions, shaping a championship contender.

“It made me realize that it really was a glimmer of hope and inspiration for so many, that if you work hard and you persevere and you're driven and you just keep going that eventually your dream will come true,” she said, via ESPN.

The website spoke with Rachel Balkovec, who is a hitting coach in the Yankees' minor league system. Balkovec relayed the importance of the hire, stating, “It changes the conversation and the idea that people have about what a GM looks like. The importance really just can't be overstated.”

Ng, thank you for continuing to be one of the best baseball minds in the game.

This year we also saw Angel City FC launch their brand with play set for 2022 in the NWSL. My two sons will grow up minutes from the pitch where they get to see top-flight football play out and it will be females for which they will cheer. The team is led by an ownership group headlined by the likes of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach among others.

2022 has been a trying and difficult year but it’s been one wherein representation and inclusivity has been championed.

Let’s not forget all of the athletes. Theaters are largely shuttered; live performances have been relegated to whatever you are humming on your daily walk. Yet so many athletes have gone out and played through the craziest season in their careers.

Many, like those in the NBA, WNBA, MLS and NWSL had to leave families and hunker down in a bubble, not sure whether their own experiments would prove fruitful.

MLB players took the field during a shortened but completely unpredictable season. While traveling was a minimum, competing amid the looming threat of contracting a disease that we are still, heading into December, still very much learning about.

The ramifications of catching COVID are still being measured, yet baseball players, NFL stars and so much talent in the world of sports from rodeo to NASCAR, went out and performed because they love to compete, and they wanted to give us all a modicum of repose.

The hope is that future seasons in the not-too-distant future will resemble those we remember fondly, ones wherein we can shout, cheers and high-five with abandon.

So many of us will gather around a Thanksgiving table this year, a table that is a little more deserted. Others will again pop on the Zoom and connect virtually.

Still more will travel by plane or car to their families, braving the unknown. There is so much uncertainty that even the simple act of getting from point A to point B has become a reason for worry.

But there is still plenty to be thankful for as we look back on a year that has been littered with heartache but also peppered with a great deal of joy.

The valleys in life are a certainty, but so are the peaks. And as we again pretend that turkey is a delicious meat without copious amounts of gravy, we can forget for a moment the unease and recognize the successes that have come amid so much hardship.

Glasses up, America. You mask-wearing beauties are a brave bunch. And we are going to get through this together. Now pass some cranberry sauce, this turkey is dry as usual.  

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AlexSolanoProducer
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