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Into the Great Big Emptiness

How do you illustrate sports without, well, sports? Covering a crisis that changes by the second presents unprecedented challenges. SI is up for it—starting with a new podcast

What does a spring without sports look like? Until this month, none of us ever really thought to ask that question. But here we are, in the throes of a pandemic, setting off into a spring unlike any other. Much of the country quarantined. Daily routines at a near standstill. All organized sports—from the Olympics to the NBA, March Madness all the way down to AAU hoops and Little League baseball—on hold. Pickup games gone, social distancing mandated.

And so, another question we’d never considered, at least not on this scale: What does Sports Illustrated look like without sports? We closed our April issue on March 17, six days after the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and the NBA became the first professional league in the U.S. to suspend its season. That news, and the wave of cancellations and postponements that quickly followed, rendered much of the issue we’d planned obsolete. So we revamped it, starting with the stark and powerful cover conceived by creative director Stephen Skalocky and photo illustrated by The Sporting Press, weaving in reflections on the growing pandemic by Jon Wertheim, Chris Ballard, Stephanie Apstein, Brian Burnsed and Pat Forde.

When the issue arrives on newsstands and in subscriber mailboxes this week you’ll also find longform features and quick-read pieces that have nothing to do with the coronavirus—the kind of analysis, commentary, journalism and immersive storytelling you always expect from SI, in print and online. The April issue reflects the balancing act we’re all undertaking right now. On one hand: hyperfocused on the situation at hand, on the need to make sense in real time of a virus’s immediate impacts and long-term effects on our health, economy and society. On the other: fully cognizant of the need to pause, reflect and occasionally revel in a very different headspace.

SI's April 2020 cover

SI's April 2020 cover

In the coming weeks and months you’ll see that balance play out in SI’s monthly magazine, on and in our videos and podcasts. Exhibit A: our newly launched Coronavirus + Sports podcast, a daily exploration of the global and local intersections of athletics and a pandemic. Hosted by Luis Miguel Echegaray, the podcast features conversations with SI writers and outside experts centered on the question of: What does the sports world look like when no games are played, no teams are gathered, no tournaments are held? In today’s episode, Wertheim and SI senior writer Michael Rosenberg tackle the infinite ramifications of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021. Have a listen.

That podcast and our other coronavirus coverage will be complemented by news and storytelling that we hope can be a welcome diversion. Coverage of the NFL offseason and the upcoming draft. The probing journalism and thoughtful essays featured in the Daily Cover. Fun features highlighting events that might get overlooked on the normal sports calendar. New franchises built around our unmatched archive of the best sports stories ever.

For 65 years, on every platform, SI has been a powerful voice in the sports conversation. Even in these unprecedented times, that won’t change. Thanks to you for reading, watching and listening. And most of all, stay safe. Soon enough, there will be games to be played.