By Ralph Nader
In the Public Interest
Why do many serious readers of newspapers go first to the Sports section? Maybe because they want to read about teams playing fun games by sports journalists and columnists, who have more freedom to use imaginative words and phrases than others in their craft.
The trouble is that ever-more organized and commercialized sports are squeezing the fun out of the games. I’m not just referring to struggles between multimillionaire players against billionaire owners–as in the current NFL lockout and the looming NBA imbroglio. I am referring to what our League of Fans Sports Policy Director, Ken Reed, calls the “win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities, policies and decisions that are resulting in a variety of abuses from the pros all the way to Little League.” When WAAC and PAAC run amok–and what’s best for the players, the fans and the game are shoved aside–“sport begins to lose its soul.”
In his first of ten “League of Fans” reports, Reed makes the case against this “soul sickness” in a 27 page Sports Manifesto. The range of endemic and often worsening problems is startling for how often they have been exposed without anything significantly being done about them.
Here is a list of Reed’s choices for civic action:
-Academic corruption in college and high school athletic programs.
-Rampant commercialization from the pros to our little leagues.
-Publicly-financed stadiums for wealthy owners.
-The perversity of forcing loyal fans to purchase personal seat licenses (PSLs) in pro and college football just to have the right to buy season tickets.
-The sports cartel in Division I football known as the Bowl Championship Series
(BCS)–which limits revenues and opportunities (e.g., a legitimate chance at a national championship) for the conferences and schools left on the outside.
-Work stoppages in the professional sports leagues in which fans have no voice.
-Exorbitant ticket and concession prices at taxpayer-funded stadiums (where most, if not all, ticket, concession, merchandise and parking revenues typically go to the franchise owners). In addition, there are also television blackouts from these taxpayer-financed stadiums.
-A focus on elite athletic teams in high schools and middle schools at the expense of diminishing intramural programs and physical education classes for all students.
-The practice of requiring college athletes to pay their own medical bills, even though they were injured while playing for their university.
-Disparities in opportunities for females, disabled individuals, and people of color despite Title IX and other civil rights advances.
-The proliferation of youth club sports organizations that have a financial vs. an educational mission.
-The specialization and professionalization of young athletes at earlier and earlier ages.
-The increasing use of performance-enhancing drugs at all ages, by both males and females.
-The erosion of the core ideals, values and ethics of sports, resulting in escalating incidents of poor sportsmanship.
-An increase in sports injuries, most alarmingly concussions.
-A shocking increase in obesity, accompanied by a decline in physical fitness–especially among our youth.
-Dehumanizing coaches at all levels, most disturbingly, at the youth level.
As a college varsity player, a coach, marketer, teacher and author, Reed is in touch with many worried and upset sports lovers. They include parents, current and retired players, leading analysts, academics, educators, physicians, reporters and civil rights advocates. League of Fans, which I started, wants to build a strong and growing reform movement not just to curb the “excesses of the monied interests,” to use a Jeffersonian phrase, but to open up opportunities for more participatory sports right down to the neighborhood levels. We have too few players and too many spectators–a reality that sports journalism should pay more attention to regularly.
There is a problem afflicting sports journalism and its comparatively immense space and time devoted to professional sports. It goes beyond a largely indifferent attitude toward this imbalance between spectators and participatory sports. Even though the concerns of many sports-lovers are based on the occasional investigatory reports or columns documenting abuses, when people acting as citizens try to do something about them, their efforts receive little, if any media coverage.
So what’s the point to these exposes other than to make readers and viewers angry, cynical or frustrated, if when the readers use this information to follow up and sound the alarm to do something, the sports media looks the other way and gives the space to some athlete who is pouting or showing up late for practice?
Sports journalism has to introspect a little about a larger view of newsworthiness. Otherwise they continue to uncritically cover the big league sports business that, with few exceptions, knows few restraints to its greed and insensitivity toward fans whom they are increasingly turning off.
League of Fans wants to hear from you. E-mail comments/questions to [email protected] or write to League of Fans, P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon