As sports policy director for League of Fans, a primary objective is to work toward mitigating the ills in sport. However, at the same time, my intent is to help enhance the positives of sport as well. I admittedly spend more time on the former goal than I do the latter. I think that’s a natural part of being a sports issues analyst in general, and of this job in particular. League of Fans is a sports reform project. We want to make sport better because we believe it has the potential to be a powerful socio-cultural force for good — if the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) ethos can be stripped away. That said, perhaps we should focus a little more on the positives in sport today, and a little less on the ugliness we too often see in SportsWorld. At the very least, we need to be diligent about bringing attention to the positives when we find them.
To that end, I think it’s important to note a fine piece of journalism turned in by Alexander Wolff in the current (9/26/11) issue of Sports Illustrated. The article, “Sports Saves the World,” looks at grassroots sports programs around the world that are addressing pressing social problems and making a positive impact. The piece also highlights some of our great sports humanitarians. Using sport for good is part of a growing global movement called Sport for Development and Peace (SDP). According to former Olympic champion Johann Olav Koss, the SDP effort is about nothing less than trying to save the world. A bit grandiose to be sure, but as the article points out, sport is doing a lot of good in all corners of the globe — from using soccer to educate Africans about HIV to using basketball to build bridges among young people in divided communities in the Middle East.
Koss has been the face of the SDP movement since donating his Olympic bonus money to Olympic Aid after winning three gold medals and setting three world records at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. He has become a humanitarian hero, not just a sports hero. In fact, Koss has helped Right to Play — the organization that succeeded Olympic Aid — reach 700,000 children in 20 countries during any given week. Koss’ instinct has long been that sport “is more than a diversion.” The fact Koss had the courage to trust and follow his instinct has made a positive difference in the lives of a lot of young people.
For example, relief workers at civil war refugee camps in Sierra Leone described the Right to Play sports programs they helped manage as “the engines of life.” According to Wolff, the Right to Play programs brought “purpose and structure to daily life in the refugee camps, among boys who’d served as child soldiers and girls who’d been subject to violence and exploitation.”
“The boys had a physical outlet for their aggression,” says Koss. “The girls developed respect for their bodies.”
Perhaps the most well-known example of using sport for good is the story of how Nelson Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to rally citizens of all races around the national team, the Springboks, helping to unite his country in the process. The story was dramatically told in the popular film Invictus.
Mandela once said, “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down barriers. Sport has the power to change the world.”
Wolff effectively ends the article with a quote from Dikembe Mutombo that speaks to the heart of what the SDP movement is all about. Mutombo, a former NBA star who became a bigger star on the humanitarian front due to his tremendous work in his native Africa — including building a hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo — told the attendees at a Beyond Sport Summit quoting a proverb of his people, “When you take the elevator to the top, please remember to send it back down so someone else might use it.”
For those of us who have been blessed in many ways, including by sport, I cannot think of a better description of what the SDP movement is all about.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
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