Column: A world without sports through the lens of a photojournalist

A DI photojournalist reflects on his time covering sports in the midst of a sports shutdown.



Shivansh Ahuja, Senior Photojournalist


For the first time in over a month, I ran to the TV, flipped to ESPN, sat, and stared in awe. My lifelong favorite team, the Cincinnati Bengals, selected Joe Burrow as its quarterback of the future in the 2020 NFL Draft.

I instantly took to every social platform to relive the moment over and over, studying draft grades and scouring the web for the first orange-and-black jersey I could find.

Sports have been put on a seemingly indefinite hiatus as a safety precaution during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As nonessential as they are, sports hold a special place for millions across the globe, whether it is betting, family tradition, or just escaping from reality for a few hours at a time.

From the Australian Grand Prix in Formula 1 to White Sox opening day, it seemed my connection with sports was indefinitely postponed. Sure, there were no open-field tackles, baseline tweeners, or backhand slapshots, but for a few fleeting moments on Thursday night, I could be a sports fan again.

That said, my time with The Daily Iowan taught me to be more than just a fan.

I’ve had my share of time on the sideline, from being in the marching band in high school to coaching Division III tennis players over a few summers. Being a photojournalist, however, showed me how to truly slow down the action. At the push of a button, I could freeze any court, field, or track; the sweat, the sold-out seats, the raw emotion from athletes giving everything they have to the sport they love all come alive.

Mere weeks before the world started social distancing, I traveled to Los Angeles for a sports photography workshop. I met dozens of other photographers and received plenty of feedback while covering events I never thought I would. I was excited as ever to bring back everything I’ve learned to cover the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Minneapolis.

The inevitable came as it does: in stages. First, the NCAA announced that no fans would be allowed at the championship events, including wrestling and basketball. As the organization continued to restrict access, I wondered if I’d be able to cover Iowa’s wrestling team again this year, as the team looked poised to take their first national title since 2010. The answer was no, and as disappointed as I was, I knew it was for the safety of everyone involved.

This time away, however, has allowed me to take a look at the work I’ve done in my career. The concerning amount of tennis matches and swim meets I’ve covered, all the different football stadiums I’ve been to, the flights I’ve taken, all came back to life — if only as JPEG files on my hard drive.

I’ve gotten to reflect on my coverage of Kathleen Doyle and Tristan Wirfs, who are both also on to pursue their professional dreams. In all, I’ve been reminded of what it means to be part of the sports community, and it’s a community I never want to be far away from.

Nobody knows when life will return to normal. All we can do at the moment is to listen to official health recommendations and stay in touch with loved ones. Uncertainty may feel bleak when living through it, but it’s going to end. When it does, it will bring out the better side of people, the sentimental side that doesn’t take things for granted, the side that will see people once again flood public parks, favorite restaurants, and stadiums.

As for myself, I’ll be on the sideline, with a pair of cameras strapped to my shoulders.

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