The Washington Capitals play the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena on May 15, 2021.
Capital One Arena during the game between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins, May 15, 2021. Credit: Kelyn Soong

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To quote former Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle: “Sports are like the reward of a functioning society.” Doolittle shared those thoughts with the Washington Post last July, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the United States. Back then, having fans in stadiums or even playing sports in general felt like an alternate reality reserved only for countries and places that had their coronavirus cases under control. 

Fast forward 10 months, and this past weekend saw four major local professional sports teams compete in D.C. in front of fans. Mayor Bowser’s reopening plan stipulates that large sports and entertainment venues will continue to operate off a waiver process for limited capacity before opening up to full capacity on June 11. Nationals Park and Audi Field, both outdoor venues, have welcomed fans at 36 percent capacity, while indoor sports facilities like Capital One Arena and the Entertainment & Sports Arena are currently operating at 25 percent capacity.

As of Friday, May 14, the city has a daily case rate of 7.4 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. That number needs to be under five for D.C. to have minimal community spread, but it has dropped substantially since peaking at 45.90 in January.

“We’ve never been able to lose sight of the personal toll that this has taken on all of our people, our players, our coaching staffs,” Monumental Sports & Entertainment chairman Ted Leonsis told reporters last week about navigating his teams through a pandemic. “All of our employees, their mental health has been very, very important to us … [You rise] to this occasion, making sure that you can balance and take care of everyone in the extended family, if you will. But we all worked on it. We all did it for this weekend.”

The Washington Wizards started off the weekend on Friday night by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 120-105, at Capital One Arena to clinch a spot in the play-in tournament, and two days later, they beat the Charlotte Hornets, 115-110, in front of 5,333 fans to earn the eighth seed in the tournament. The Wizards will next play the Boston Celtics in Boston tomorrow night. On Saturday, the Capitals beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in overtime, with help from a nearly 40-year-old backup goalie, in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Mystics lost, 70-56, to the Chicago Sky in their first home game in front of fans since winning the 2019 WNBA championship. The following day, Old Glory DC, the local professional rugby team, beat the Seattle Seawolves, 22-18, at Segra Field in Leesburg, Virginia, and D.C. United dropped its match against Orlando City, 1-0, at Audi Field. A limited number of fans were there to see it all, as the slow march back to normalcy, and potentially a better, more equitable future, continues.

“It was a really cool moment for us just to share that with our fans,” Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said of watching the championship banner being unveiled. “That’s the goal, is to bring another championship back to D.C.”

—Kelyn Soong (tips?

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