Commentary: Giving thanks to OL Reign, NWSL for pioneering way through pandemic before other leagues

Today, we enjoyed a full slate of NFL games – a notion I realize many of us still don’t take for granted anymore, given the current conditions. And I got a stark reminder about that last night.

If you missed it, OL Reign completed their 2020 season with a 2-0 win over Utah. It was the last match of the National Women’s Soccer League Fall Series, which began about two months after the league’s tournament in Utah ended back in July. While Reign supporters clearly took notice, I’d venture to say that unfortunately, a great majority of sports fans in our area weren’t paying attention.

I’ll tell you why I was paying attention. Not because it’s my job or because it’s important to support a local team. It’s because it’s always a good idea to never forget where we came from.

For about three and a half months this year, there were no teams to watch. Aside from the Bundesliga in Germany and baseball in Asia and a few other random leagues around the world, that was it. And while our priority was everyone’s health (and rightfully so), I’m reminded how frustrating it was to not have the almost-nightly baseball game on, or a playoff game in the NBA or NHL to turn to for a pretty good length of time.

The NWSL changed that. Amidst a lot of uncertainty and skepticism, it was the first American professional sports league with teams to start back up. About two weeks before MLS, and a month before baseball, hockey, the NBA and WNBA all began again, they were the league pioneering the way.

And four months later, in front of empty stands at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, OL Reign and Utah tied a bow around a fragmented season that sort of crowned a champion, but not really... but really, that didn’t matter one bit. What mattered is that they pulled it off – and that they showed it could be done. What mattered is that they gave us something to watch again.

Not to mention, if you did tune in, the numbers showed you probably hung around. Before this year, the league’s record viewership for a broadcast was 190,000 viewers. This year, the Challenge Cup opener drew three times that, and the final match drew 81,000 more than that.

So don’t say that people don’t care. Enough of them cared about the NWSL, or soccer, or just about finally seeing pro teams in action again to tune in. These teams and these women provided one of the first distractions for us all amidst so much restlessness and uncertainty, and they deserve all the credit in the world.

Yes, in a sense, we’re back to some normalcy, watching college football on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays and Mondays, and Thursdays… and…. Tuesdays (?) this fall.

But I won’t forget about my roots: Where we were back in April with little to no sports was a pretty dark place with pretty bleak prospects.

I owe the NWSL and OL Reign a lot for stemming that tide - and providing us with some hope.