It may not be as obvious, but the illusion of comfort that sports put on draws our minds away from the one thing that we can't control in our lives right now.

It's common for sports, whether you're an athlete or a fan, to provide an "escape" from life. It's an outlet to relieve stress and enjoy the environment around you.  

In high school, I looked forward to those two-hour hockey practices where I could just skate, play the game I love and not worry about how bad my grade in math class was. Even now, after a long day in the newsroom, I look forward to catching a mid-week volleyball game just to focus on something different when I'm on the clock. 

However, when I'm going to sporting events now, while I'm enjoying the game, I'm still very aware of the state of the world. Unlike high school, there's one factor in my life that I can't control anywhere: COVID-19. I can be so invested in a game, but I can't forget we are in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 people in this country.  

When waiting for Saturday Night Live to start, I watched Notre Dame upset Clemson, which is a big deal, don't get me wrong, but I was shocked that Notre Dame fans rushed the field. No regard that Notre Dame has struggled to control the pandemic or that Clemson University has the worst COVID-19 outbreaks amongst universities in the U.S. or just that this is a global health crisis that has killed millions around the world. 

The smoke screens fell over Notre Dame fans and they ran. Thousands of students jumped onto the field with no regard to COVID-19 because hey, we won a football game. However, the conduct by Notre Dame fans on Saturday can be seen at sporting events everywhere. It may not be as obvious, but the illusion of comfort that sports put on draws our minds away from the one thing that we can't control in our lives right now.

I've seen PPE used as a ticket to get into games, meaning that you show your ticket once and you don't need to show it again. People walk through the door with a mask on and instantly take it off once they're through the door. Once the popcorn is in hand, the mask comes off and goes into the back pocket. 

There's shouting. There's cheering. There's chatting. There's coaching. The game provides a sense of comfort, but the spread of COVID-19 is even more comfortable in that same gymnasium. As the mask comes off along with any sense of stress from school or work, so does your prevention from contracting COVID-19. Sporting events can act as superspreader events if self-responsibility is not taken.  

I'll give credit to the schools I've been to. Lately, more and more patrons have worn masks throughout the entire game and social distancing in the stands has become more and more abundant. However, that is only after every athletic program in the region has been directly impacted by COVID-19. 

Every volleyball team in the region has had to sit out two weeks and a handful of teams have lost their seasons due to COVID-19. It's easy to get drawn into the action as a player, coach, fan, or even game official, and forget about what is happening, but we need to always be alert about where we are and who we're interacting with. We cannot be hypnotized by the ball moving back and forth and back and forth and...STOP IT. 

Please keep your mask on and try to sit with those in your household. You can enjoy the game smartly and safely. I don't want to have the fear again of having to get tested because someone was COVID-19 positive at a game I was covering or watch another team have their season taken away. What happened to Four Winds/Minnewauken volleyball, Oakes football and now Rolla volleyball is just awful. 

We can continue to treat the sports we love to watch and play as an escape, be we can do it responsibly and safely. Like an illusion, enjoy the spectacle, but don't get fooled. 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for The Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127