By Ken Reed
Sports have been a passion of mine since I was seven years old. It’s a true love affair. But as a sports columnist, I – like most other sports columnists – tend to focus on the negatives of SportsWorld.
We identify what’s wrong – in our not very humble opinions – and then build a case about how to fix the problem, or at least make the situation better.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of problems in sports, from overbearing, win-at-all-costs adults in youth sports, to high-profile pro athletes who spend their spare time dog-fighting or attempting to set the world record for philandering, to steroid scandals. And on and on the list can go.
When you think about it, it’s understandable why columnists focus on the negative. First, it draws more attention than the positive (and Lord knows, columnists like attention). People like reading about controversies, scandals and human frailties. Second, the vast majority of columnists want to make things better. Despite their sometimes cranky personas, they really do care and would like to mitigate the negatives so the sports experience can be a better one for all involved.
Well, sometimes there is a need to appreciate what’s right in sports — if for no other reason then to prevent becoming too cynical. There’s also a school of thought that says if we focus on what’s right — i.e., spend our energy trying to enhance the positives — the negatives will gradually begin to dissolve away.
I’m not sure about that theory, but I do believe we should spend more time celebrating the good in sports. So, without further ado, here are a few things that I feel exemplify what’s right about sports …
• Sports bring people closer together. A grandfather and his grandson taking in a game at a baseball stadium. A father playing tennis with his daughter on a Saturday morning. A mother playing catch with her son in the backyard after school. Four buddies playing golf in a work league on a Wednesday evening. A country becoming one behind the American hockey team’s “miracle on ice” victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. Sports have an amazing ability to connect people, to forge strong relationships. That’s cool.
• Sports are for girls too. Pre-Title IX, sports were primarily for males only. Today, girls are competing in sports at rates nearly the same as boys. As such, they are able to reap the fitness, social, character, and teamwork benefits just like their male counterparts. That’s good for girls and our society.
• Sports are a great distraction. If you had a bad day at the office, or are having problems at home, sports are there to help you lose yourself for awhile. If your father’s in poor health, the stock market’s sinking, or your kid’s struggling in school, SportsWorld provides a little respite from the challenges of the real world.
• Some athletes use their sports visibility to do more than make money. Team sports, when taught the right way, provide great lessons in the power of “we over me.” There are a lot of athletes that are using their sports platform to make the world a better place. Athletes, at all levels, can use the power of sports to make a difference … and they do so more than we realize.
There is a special breed of athlete that works to make our playing fields and our everyday lives more fair and just. Consider Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens who used class, character and talent to not only make Sportsworld better but Realworld better as well. Similarly, every female athlete today owes a special thanks to Babe Didrickson Zaharias and Billie Jean King, great athletes who spent a lot of their time fighting for equal opportunity.
• Sports help us leave our baggage, issues and prejudices behind. The rules of sport demand an equal playing field. Once an athlete steps on the field, our games don’t care what color their skin is or how much money they have in their bank account. It’s all about whether or not you can perform.
• Sports provide great drama. As long-time Major League Baseball manager Clint Hurdle once observed, “Man can’t script what sport can create.”
Perhaps the author Thomas Dyja said it best, “The three essential conflicts of drama – Man against Man, Man against his environment, and Man against himself – are exactly what draw sports lovers out to the stadiums and into easy chairs around the world.”
Yes, it’s true that sports, and the athletes that play them, aren’t perfect but they are good more often than people realize – and certainly more often than sports columnists acknowledge.
It’s important to express our gratitude for that fact more often than we do.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Ken Reed's Author Page on Amazon
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.