40 other times sports have been temporarily interrupted

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June 4, 2020
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40 other times sports have been temporarily interrupted

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of global sports leagues and events have been interrupted or cancelled. While the casual gambler can still find dozens of sports wagers in unexpected corners, the world is without endless live action. The UEFA Champions League, MLB regular season, NHL playoffs, and an April Masters are just a few notable examples of the hobbies and escapes from the chaos that the novel coronavirus nullified. On a promising note, however, the NBA will return in July after abruptly stopping play on March 11. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league’s Board of Governors voted to approve a 22-team resumption format—mini eight-game schedules followed by postseason—in Orlando from July 31–Oct. 12.

Though 2020 is an unprecedented time, it is hardly the only one in which sports have been interrupted by major events. Stacker has accordingly decided to break down 40 other times in history when sports have stopped, whether the hiatus lasted a day, extended a few months, or cancelled entire seasons or biannual international contests. To compile this list, we consulted several timelines and sports media outlets, contextualizing these moments with the most pertinent news items.

Most recently in January, prior to the coronavirus sports shutdown, Kobe and Gigi Bryant suddenly died in a helicopter accident, which postponed a Lakers–Clippers game. Only four years prior, Miami baseball cancelled a home game to mourn their young star pitcher who died in a boating accident. Since 2000, natural disasters have moved NFL home games to new cities, relocated an NBA team to a different state for two seasons, and cancelled marathons.

Since the 1970s, owners and players in America’s major professional leagues have battled over rights and monetary power, leading to infamous strikes. In the preceding decade, two world leaders’ assassinations less than five years apart forced unique reactions and stoppages. And over a century ago, World War I affected four years of athletics, and a flu pandemic halted leagues and championships.

Throughout history—even after tragedies, violent attacks, and massacres have made them secondary—sports always resume, and they remain arguably our best means to establish a new normal. See all the examples of when, why, and where sports were interrupted.

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1916: WWI cancels Berlin Summer Olympics

World War I, which started in 1914, eventually led to the cancellation of the 1916 Berlin Summer Olympics. A newly constructed and dedicated 30,000-spectator stadium was not enough to counteract the number of countries involved in the conflict and the unforeseen length of the war.

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1918–19: WWI cuts short, postpones MLB seasons

WWI concluded in November 1918, so that year’s Major League Baseball season ended one month early with around 20 fewer games. The World Series finished Sept. 11 when the Red Sox beat the Cubs. The 1919 season consequently began later and included 10–15 fewer games.

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1919: Spanish flu stops Stanley Cup Final

In March 1919, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans were knotted at two games apiece (with one tie) in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Final. The Spanish flu pandemic stopped play just hours before the decisive final game, as the league called off the series after players from both teams became ill. This marks the lone year on the Cup without an inscribed champion; instead, “Series not completed” remains.

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1923: Harding death, funeral cancel MLB games

President Warren G. Harding’s surprising death on Aug. 2, 1923 (from a heart attack at 57) froze all MLB action for the day. His funeral eight days later postponed all games as well.

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1940: WWII eliminates Winter, Summer Olympics

World War II (1939–45), which saw global populations engaged in the deadliest conflict of all time, inevitably affected athletics. The original dual winter and summer host, Japan, declared war on China, thereby relinquishing its rights to hold the 1940 Games. After Hitler invaded Poland (1939), the rebooked Finland Winter Games and Germany Summer Games were called off.

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1942–1946: WWII wipes out 2 World Cups

Not only did WWII cause the cancellation of back-to-back FIFA World Cups during the same period, but host countries hadn’t even been selected. Despite peacetime by 1946, FIFA lacked the personnel and resources to stage the international competition.

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1943–45: Wartime cancels 3 straight Masters

In April 1942, Byron Nelson defeated Ben Hogan in a Masters playoff, the final time a green jacket was awarded at Augusta until April 1946 (WWII ended September 1945).

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1943: NFL adjusts to war

The National Football League made a series of unique adjustments to maintain the 1943 wartime season despite gutted rosters due to service. The Cleveland Rams ceased operations for the year, missing not only players but even their owner, who’d been drafted into the war. In addition, the season shrank to 10 games, and, iconically, the Steelers and Eagles formed the “Steagles” with combined limited personnel (they went just 5–4–1 and missed the playoffs).

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1944: IOC scraps Winter, Summer Olympics again

Still a full year before WWII’s conclusion, the 1944 Italy Winter Games and London Summer Games never commenced. Switzerland ultimately held the Winter Olympics four years later, while London remained the host site for the summer.

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1944: MLB reschedules all games on D-Day

Baseball was put on hold on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy. The largest invasion by sea in world history included troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and New Zealand.

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1963: JFK assassination stops most of college football

Sixty-two college football games took place in Week 10 (Nov. 15–16) of the 1963 season. The following week (Nov. 22–23), only 18 were contested—or less than one-third the usual—when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22.

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1968: MLB players force Opening Day postponement after MLK assassination

The NBA and NHL rescheduled playoff games—and the country virtually shut down—in the wake of the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., but MLB Commissioner William Eckert disgracefully made no decision. After the Washington Senators postponed their opener to honor King’s funeral, the Reds followed suit, and the Pirates—with an integrated lineup and 11 Black players—successfully cancelled their game with the reluctant Astros. Only after several more teams moved their games did Eckert officially postpone Opening Day.

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1972: MLB’s 1st players strike

A 13-day players' strike wiped out the first week’s games of the 1972 season. Play resumed when owners increased pension funds by $500,000 and revamped the collective bargaining agreement to include arbitration. The league never made up the cancelled games, affecting the final standings, as teams ended up playing different total numbers of games.

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1972: Munich Olympics suspended after Israeli athletes murdered

Palestinian terrorists entered the Olympic Village in the midst of the 1972 Munich Summer Games, where they killed two Israelis and took nine more hostage, all of whom they eventually murdered, along with a West German policeman. Following a 34-hour suspension and a memorial service, the Games resumed.

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1976: Astros–Pirates rained out in Astrodome

After Houston was battered by a thunderstorm in June 1976, the Astros and Pirates cancelled an ensuing game due to massive flooding. The Astrodome’s roof did its job; however, built into the ground with home plate below sea level, the structure’s lower-level entries were underwater.

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1981: MLB’s 2nd strike

MLB players went on strike again nine years after the first stoppage, disputing free-agency parameters and teams’ compensation from player departures. Just like 1972, teams’ seasons ended unevenly after the June–August interruption condensed the season to just over 100 games.

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1982: NFL players’ 4th strike trims season

Though NFL players had gone on strike prior to 1982, they affected the season length for the first time, losing seven of the standard 16 games. The strike began after Week 2 wrapped on Sept. 20 and came to a close prior to Week 11’s first games on Nov. 21.

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1987 NFL strike

Five years later, the NFL Players Association kicked off another strike after Week 2—this time over free-agency power. The league only lost one week, however, since replacement players put on pads and superstars quickly returned to their posts.

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1989: Hillsborough disaster stops FA Cup semifinal

The Hillsborough disaster remains one of the most horrific events in sports history. Just before kickoff of the raucous FA Cup semi between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, outrageous overcrowding consumed the standing-room-only areas behind one goal. When local police mishandled the situation, the barriers between areas broke. Some lucky fans escaped onto the field through holes in the fence, but 96 people died—many from asphyxiation from other bodies—and hundreds were injured. The game was rescheduled.

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1989: San Francisco earthquake halts the World Series

On Oct. 17, 1989, just prior to Game 3 of the Bay Area World Series between the Giants and A’s, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Northern California. Sixty-seven people died, and the state suffered billions of dollars in damage. Thousands of fans had already entered Candlestick Park, which some argue prevented further casualties since they were off the rush-hour roads. Broadcast feeds famously shook. The series resumed 10 days later, and Oakland eventually swept.

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1990: Gathers’ on-court death ends WCC basketball tourney

In the first half of the 1990 West Coast Conference semifinal, Loyola Marymount senior Hank Gathers collapsed on the court. The contest was halted, and Gather, 23, was taken to a hospital where he died shortly after. The remainder of the tournament was cancelled, and LMU was named conference champions based on the regular season.

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1992: NHL’s 1st strike

The NHL’s first work stoppage came in April of the 1991–92 regular season, postponing 30 games. A new collective bargaining agreement was reached after 10 games, the season was expanded from 80 to 84 games, and the Stanley Cup Finals were played in June for the first time.

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1992: Rodney King riots affect LA sports

When a Los Angeles jury acquitted the four policemen who brutally beat Rodney King, the city exploded in riots for one week beginning in late April. The Dodgers and Expos postponed their series, and the Lakers and Clippers rescheduled—and relocated—opening-round playoff games. The Lakers played Game 4 of the first round in Las Vegas, and the Clippers used nearby Anaheim.

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1994–95: MLB’s longest strike nixes World Series

The first unplayed World Series since 1904 was a result of the league’s eighth stoppage in history. The 1994 season was cancelled in August when the infamous strike began, and over 200 days later, the two sides finally agreed after the U.S. District Court got involved. The 1995 season kicked off late and totaled just 144 games—though the postseason returned.

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1994–95: NHL lockout cuts season nearly in half

Owners sparked a three-month lockout beginning in October, hoping to institute a salary cap. By the time they gave in by January, teams completed only 48 of the typical 82 games.

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1998–99: NBA lockout trims season

Similarly, when basketball owners sought cost-saving salary-cap reductions beginning in July 1998, the season froze until January 1999 and began over 200 days late. The 82-game schedule was truncated to just 50.

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1999: Columbine massacre stops Denver’s MLB, NBA, NHL action

On April 20, 1999, two Columbine High School seniors murdered 12 students and one teacher. The mourning and aftermath extended to Colorado’s professional sports teams in Denver, where the Rockies and Nuggets postponed games, and the Avalanche played Games 1 and 2 of their first-round playoff series in San Jose (despite the home-ice advantage they’d earned).

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2001: 9/11 puts MLB, NFL on pause

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, both the MLB regular season’s final month and NFL’s second week temporarily paused. Baseball resumed Sept. 17, and the Fall Classic finished in November. Two post-attack moments remain in sports and New York lore: The Mets’ Mike Piazza hit a late go-ahead home run in the first NYC sports event after resumption; and before Game 3 of the World Series, President George W. Bush threw a Yankee Stadium first pitch to Derek Jeter.

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2003: California Cedar Fire relocates Chargers’ MNF game

One of the worst California wildfires, the Cedar Fire, destroyed over a quarter-million acres of San Diego land. The Chargers were set to host the Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night Football, but when their home field transformed into an evacuation site, the matchup went east to Arizona State.

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2004–05: NHL lockout washes entire season

The 2004 iteration of the NHL owners lockout not only stretched to 2005, but it caused a full-season cancellation—the only time it’s happened in North American sports. Players fought against a new salary cap.

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2005: Hurricane Katrina puts New Orleans sports in disarray

Hurricane Katrina, the catastrophic August 2005 Category 5 tropical cyclone which devastated New Orleans and killed hundreds, transformed the local sports landscape. In addition to the Superdome’s repurposing as a shelter, its structural damage forced all 2005 Saints home games out of the city (they played those from LSU in Baton Rouge and San Antonio’s Alamodome). The NBA arena couldn’t host games either, and the Hornets instead played two seasons in Oklahoma City.

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2008: Hurricane Ike affects all Houston sports

Ike, the September 2008 Category 4 cyclone, did its worst damage to Cuba and Texas. The Astros played a home series in Milwaukee, the University of Houston Cougars hosted a football game in Dallas, and the Texans’ Week 2 home opener was not contested until Week 10.

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2008: Tornado alters SEC men’s basketball tournament

Downtown Atlanta’s Georgia Dome played host to the 2008 SEC basketball tournament in mid-March, but a tornado impacted the schedule and location. The last quarterfinal that night (which included the University of Georgia team) was postponed, and the remainder of the bracket played out at Georgia Tech. As a result, the Bulldogs played two games in one day—the only time in the tournament’s history—and still won the title.

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2010: Vikings’ Metrodome roof collapses from snow

A December 2010 snowstorm that blasted Minneapolis also dumped on the Vikings’ home dome, and the severe winds prevented cleanup. The weight tore open a hole, the roof collapsed, and the Vikings played a home game from Detroit’s Ford Field.

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2011: NBA lockout reduces season to 66 games

LeBron James’ first NBA title came on the heels of a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule. After months of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, the league resumed on Christmas Day 2011.

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2012: Hurricane Sandy cancels NYC Marathon

Category 1 Hurricane Sandy decimated New York City and Long Island in late October 2012. Mayor Michael Bloomberg oscillated between continuing the Nov. 4 marathon and cancelling, ultimately calling it off two days prior amid public outcries over essential resources going to racers instead of those in need.

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2012–13: NHL lockout leads to January start

Revenue sharing was the center of debate between NHL owners and players prior to the 2012–13 season. The revised January start date allowed for only 48 games.

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2013: Boston bombing postpones Celtics, Bruins games

Two bombs detonated at the finish line of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds. That night’s Bruins game and the next day’s Celtics game were both postponed.

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2016: Marlins mourn unexpected Jose Fernandez death

Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he and two others horrifically died in an early-hours boat accident in which he was the pilot. The Marlins cancelled their late-September home game later that Sunday, as teammates and fans mourned the universally-beloved pitcher.

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2020: Lakers–Clippers game postponed in wake of Kobe, Gigi Bryant deaths

On the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 41, was en route via helicopter to coach a girls basketball game when the aircraft tragically crashed. Aboard was his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, and seven others, including two of her teammates. Though that day’s NBA games went on as scheduled—albeit in difficult emotional circumstances—the Lakers–Clippers game two days later was postponed to allow the Bryant family and Lakers organization to grieve.

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