Next Column Up: The sports emotion spectrum

Two bits of news that came out this week made me feel very differently, and it reminded me of the range of emotions sports can provide.

First was an update on Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who collapsed and had to be resuscitated on the field during a nationally televised game in January.

At the time, I wrote a column describing that as the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed during a sporting event. That’s still true, and it makes his comeback even more remarkable.

Earlier this week, Hamlin announced that he has been cleared medically to return to football activities and that he is planning on returning to the field this fall.

“This event was life-changing, but it’s not the end of my story. I’m here to announce that I plan on making a comeback to the NFL,” Hamlin announced.

Hamlin confirmed that he suffered from commotio cordis, a rare phenomenon where a sudden and blunt blow to the chest at a particular point in the heart beat disrupts the heart’s rhythm and causes cardiac arrest.

If not for the Buffalo Bills training staff’s immediate response, Hamlin would not be with us today. The fact that he not only survived, but is planning a comeback is simply remarkable.

When he takes the field in September, regardless of the outcome on the field, it will be a final chapter to one of the greatest stories in sports history.

If Hamlin’s story brings out the best in sports, the situation in Oakland brings out some of the worst.

Late Wednesday night, the Las Vegas Review-Journal announced that the Oakland Athletics have entered a binding agreement to purchase an area of land near the Las Vegas Strip where a major league ballpark could be constructed.

Shortly after, the team released a statement confirming that the team has shifted focus to Vegas, all but cementing the inevitable end of the Athletics in Oakland. Oakland mayor Sheng Thao announced the city ceased negotiations with the A’s around the same time.

In the last five years, the city of Oakland has lost the Golden State Warriors, who crossed the bridge and now play in San Francisco, the Oakland Raiders, who are now in Las Vegas, and the A’s.

There are a lot of reasons and circumstances surrounding a franchise relocation, mainly funding, and I know that in the end, money always wins out.

But I want to focus on a proud fan base that has been abandoned, a once proud sports city that will sit desolate, left without a major team as soon as this November. Sports teams, at the end of the day, are a business, and the fans get screwed in the end.

But what’s tough about this move, even if it seemed inevitable, is that A’s fans have been getting screwed over for decades.

They weren’t always the laughing stock of the league, fielding horrible teams that made fans wonder if better Triple-A teams could compete with them.

Since moving to Oakland in 1968, the A’s have played in six World Series, winning four of them, most recently in 1989.

As recently as 2019, the A’s averaged over 20,000 fans a game to watch a group win 97 games and qualify for the postseason.

20,000 fans was still in the bottom-third of the league, but it’s more than double what they averaged last season, not even hitting 10,000 fans per game.

Nowadays, the product on the field doesn’t give fans any reason to come out.

In the early 2000s, the A’s made “Moneyball” famous, using advanced analytics to find cheaper talent that fit their small-market budget. Using this formula, they attempted to compete with some of the biggest brands in the sport, including the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who had tens of millions of dollars more available to spend.

The story was later written in a book, and later turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, which many consider to be one of the best baseball movies.

What started as a fun story has turned into a borderline joke, with the A’s knowingly shipping off any talent they have before they pay them. As recently as the 2022, the Athletics front office shipped away Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chris Bassitt, three players who made All-Star teams in Oakland.

In a sport without a salary cap, the only reason that teams would move on from players due for an extension is to pocket that revenue for themselves.

John Fisher has continuously neglected putting resources into this team, often fielding the team with the lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball.

Why would fans want to invest in going to the ballpark? Why would they want to pay tax dollars to support an owner who has continuously shown that he does not care?

Through 16 games this season, they are 3-16, equaling the worst start in the 123-year history of the franchise, including a 54-year stretch in Philadelphia and a 13-year stint in Kansas City.

Would any of us want to spend money to go to the worst stadium in American sports and watch the team we love get handily defeated on a daily basis? Even the most diehard of fans will at least give it some thought.

Las Vegas will now be getting its third professional franchise, joining the Raiders and the NHL’s Golden Knights. Las Vegas was once a shunned sports city, but now professional leagues are embracing the money and opportunity that the city provides. And I get it. That’s business, after all.

But while these teams embrace the glamor of new cities and billion-dollar stadiums, it’s hard not to feel for a city that was once their home.

A fan base that was once among the most passionate in the country, unable to enjoy the sport in the same way and left with a pit in its stomach.