John Oliver rolls up a ridiculously brilliant remedy for our sports-starved existence

John Oliver

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Sometimes you can’t make stuff up. As John Oliver noted on his latest coronavirus-themed main story on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the single most irresponsible thing happening in the world of American sport right now can be traced not just to Florida, but to Jacksonville, Florida. As fans of The Good Place and Manny Jacinto’s holy fool Jason Mendoza know well, there’s a reason why Jacksonville was chosen as the go-to spot for gator crime and high schools that are just a bunch of tugboats tied together—anything goes in Jacksonville. Oliver’s story on the pressing yet insoluble problem of when we get to stop watching old baseball games on cable and pretending the world is back to normal cited Jacksonville’s traditional cautionary tale status in allowing the UFC to hold its first post-pandemic fight event there recently, even though the pandemic is nowhere near “post.” (A fact only slightly less supervillain-insane than UFC swollen head Dana White’s proposal to start up an Enter The Dragon-style “Fight Island” somewhere in international waters, which is a real possibility, because the world is a badly written parody of itself.)

But the loss of sports is a genuine issue, not just, as Oliver noted, for those of us whose already desperate need for diversion has us watching televised Russian slap-fighting on SportsCenter, but for the hundreds of thousands of workers threatened with losing their jobs as the shutdown continues. And while Oliver, highlighting the plight of two Philadelphia stadium workers, did concede that Philly’s sports fans are notoriously “a horde of inhuman monsters who deserve neither sympathy nor understanding,” there’s no reason to take that out on the people who depend on said fans’ “monster money” to survive.

Asking how sports could conceivably reopen in a time when massive groups of drunken fans shouting in each others’ faces in huge, petri dish-shaped stadiums while large sweaty men grapple with each other is “a nightmare scenario,” Oliver first spotlighted those who can be safely and wisely ignored. (Donald Trump, the WWE’s Vince McMahon, OSU football coach Mike Gundy, who speculated that “most of” his young players could fight off the deadly virus so OSU can go back to making millions from their unpaid labor.) But even actual, not cartoonishly venal experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci’s suggestions for tightly controlled, fan-less “bubble leagues” would, in Oliver’s estimation, involve logistical obstacles that undo them before they start. Said Oliver with unconcealed disappointment, “The second you start reading the details of any plan, it automatically becomes ridiculous.”

But, as ever, Oliver is all about solutions. Loopy, elaborately silly solutions, sure, but solutions nonetheless. That’s why, after plugging the YouTube channel of one particular sport whose athletes are in no danger whatsoever from corona or any other virus (chipping, maybe), Oliver noted that Last Week Tonight has become the one and only corporate sponsor of the Jelle’s Marble Runs Marble League 2020. Go, Midnight Wisps, you glassy spheres of courage, you! Once more spending some of HBO’s money to take a silly idea and make it gloriously, sublimely, and charitably sillier, Oliver announced that the winning athletes will receive thousands of dollars in prize money to donate to causes like the International Rescue Committee, all while allowing those ball-rolling Dutch sports geniuses to hold their empirically thrilling, gravity-assisted events for our much-needed sporting entertainment. The fun starts on June 21 online, and is the one guaranteed beautiful thing in this sports-starved world that we can look forward to.

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