It was just an ordinary night at a Utah Jazz game for Kristin Murphy, the Deseret News photographer who was assigned to cover the game against the visiting Toronto Raptors at Vivint Arena on March 9. At the same time, photographer Steve Griffin was traveling to Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference and Pac-12 basketball tournaments.
The Jazz game ended with a Utah loss and with Rudy Gobert being ejected from the game.
Two nights later, in front of the Oklahoma City Thunder crowd, an announcer came over the speakers just before tipoff telling fans that the game had been canceled.
The story grew just a short time later when the NBA tweeted that a player with the Utah Jazz had preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. Later we learned that that player was Gobert. With the coronavirus already making headlines across the country, this disease suddenly became very real for Utah sports fans.
Back in Las Vegas, Griffin had just finished covering the Utes’ loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
Thursday morning, Griffin and the Utes were already packing their bags when more breaking news hit: The Pac-12 was canceling all remaining conference athletic events.
Back in Salt Lake City, we were coming face-to-face with this scary virus, and suddenly putting Murphy into quarantine because of her possible exposure to Gobert. Photographers often sit baseline along the ends of the court, sometimes very close to the players, and thus could be at risk.
Just like that, high school, college and professional sports went dark. Before we knew it, our sports coverage took a dramatic turn as well.
Suddenly, we were taking and editing photos of empty sports stadiums, marquees thanking the fans and locked gates at Little League fields.
Then, in late May, just as some sports were returning, including professional soccer here in Utah, the sports world reacted with outrage almost uniformly to the tragic death of George Floyd. Athletes, sometimes kneeling, sometimes wearing shirts or face masks with messages of support to the Floyd family and anger toward our country’s social injustices, became part of the fabric of society.
With athletes around the world speaking out, those protests at sporting events became a big part of what our photographers now covered.
Our sports photo coverage went from March Madness to a year with a whole lot of madness. From the high school seniors who were denied the opportunity to play their final spring seasons, to NBA fans who had to watch their teams battle it out inside a bubble, to the crazy sounds of artificial crowd noise, 2020 was a year like no other.
Yet through the madness, it was still sports that helped keep us together. We still cheered for the same teams despite our political division.
In 2020, the Deseret News photographers were there every step of the way, to document and tell the stories that needed telling. Here is a sampling of some of their incredible work.