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Virtual Pandemic Sports Fans Ranked: From Lil Wayne to Cereal and Stuffed Bears



These brave, inanimate fans have sacrificed their lives to give you some damn atmosphere.
Someday, when this is all over—cotton masks shoved away, untouched, in the back of your sock drawer—we’ll look back at this moment in American sports. And we’ll say what the fuck. The NBA plays its games within miles of It’s a Small World. The MLB is one big game of catch the coronavirus. The NFL expanded its rosters so that teams can inevitably funnel in healthy players to replace the sick ones. The NCAA is waging a legitimate civil war, college football one giant free-for-all where schools are playing whatever teams are left standing and willing to risk it.
Even stranger? We’ll look at the photography, too, and see stuffed animals in the stands of baseball stadiums, babies and dogs goofing around in the backdrop of the NBA playoffs, and the Phillie Phanatic trying to rally an Amazon packing facility’s worth of cardboard to do the wave. While the state of the world is entirely horrifying and cause for mass dissociation, at the very least, we’ve seen some creative stand-ins for sports fans the past few months. Here’s the best and worst of them.
Real people spill a souvenir cup full of Bud on you. Real people scream fuck and shit and goddamnit louder than the sound of Post Malone blaring on the arena’s speakers. Real people propose to their significant others at halftime. Real people can contract the coronavirus. And yeah, real people are actually returning to stadiums this fall.
Cardboard cutouts are by far the laziest no-IRL-fans fix. And slightly capitalistic! Numerous teams asked fans to legitimately pay for their likeness to show up in sad, empty stadiums. It has been slightly redeemed by a few memorable cameos. Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s. A horse. Patrick Mahomes. Leave cardboard cutouts where they belong—advertising the next Jumanji outing at your nearest movie theater, the one you should definitely not be going to right now.
Over the summer, FOX tooled around with projecting thousands and thousands of computer-generated fans into empty seats. Unfortunately, our lovable, Javascript-souled doppelgängers looked like they were rendered in the 1980s, moving their hands near each other in a slow, strange motion that vaguely resembled applause after every home run. It was terrifying. Why aren’t these glitching abominations at the very bottom of this list? CGI fans are the logical extension of our Fortnite-is-a-real-sport world. Soon, your very own avatar—the one that you paid 100 bucks for—will be flossing at a Yankees game. We haven’t seen the last of these creatures.
Pumping MP3s of fans screaming and wooping and jeering has become the vibemaker of choice for sports broadcasts. And it’s… really not that bad! Depending on your interest in, you know, what’s actually going on in the game, you might even forget for a second that the NBA is basically playing empty-middle-school-gym basketball. What? Did you miss the Kevin Harts and Drakes of the world making a fuss courtside while you’re trying to watch the game?
The NBA Bubble’s big video board full of Zooming fans (or Microsoft-Teamsing, in this case) is just absurd enough to work. Look past the big men playing a basketball on the floor, and you might see a giant baby giggling on the screen, or maybe even a lone pup, managing to stay calm even when Marcus Morris tries to break someone’s leg. Or even Weezy! And E.T. has been known to enjoy himself some hoops, too. It’s fun. It’s dumb. It could’ve been much worse.
Behold: A hero, at work. The Phillie Phanatic, lounging amidst a sea of inanimate slabs of cardboard, channeling the spirit of 30,000 Yuengling-guzzling Philadelphians into every strand of his dirty, grass-colored fur. Mascots have always been a questionable fixture in American sports. This might be the first time that we actually need them. These tragic, unwashed sacks of cartoon skin will always fight to entertain. And the Phanatic will persevere, even if a stray glob of coronavirus cells threaten to invade his wide-open pipe of a nose. We salute you.
When the Korean Baseball League first introduced stuffed animals—featuring the cotton-filled likes of Spongebob, Pikachu, and Mickey Mouse—it felt like things could be this way forever. Who wouldn’t want to see Winnie the Pooh instead of Steven, the tenured season ticket holder downing a greasy hot dog from behind home plate? Then, on a date that will live on in sports history, August 21st, 2020, a foul ball struck Teddy the teddy bear in the head. Numerous calls to the Oakland Children’s Hospital could not confirm Teddy’s present condition. The second spot on this list will ensure that Teddy’s legacy and unwavering commitment to America’s pastime will never be forgotten.
Nothing captures the absurdity, complete absence of meaning, or the sheer, existential terror of modern sports fandom like the left-field Cinnamon Toast Crunches of Marlins Park. Maybe you see yourself in the very bottom-left shellshocked Crunch. Or, possibly, the constipated Crunch, bottom-right, second row up. If you’re truly lucky, one of the acid-tripping Crunches with its tongue sticking out, in a state of shock-paralysis. This time in American history has rendered us all Cinnamon Toast Crunches. We have embodied the spirit of the Crunch. Accept it. Every ounce of your being is Cinnamon Toast Crunch now.

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