By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
November 27, 2013
I love sports.
I’m also fed up with sports.
I’m guessing that a lot of you are conflicted in the same way.
I’ve been involved in the world of sports, in one capacity or another, my entire life. Born the son of a coach, I played organized competitive athletics from Little League through college. I’ve been a coach, scout, sports administrator, sports marketing consultant, sports studies professor, and sports issues columnist.
It’s safe to say that sports have influenced who I am today — for better and worse — more than anything else. It’s the single thread woven throughout my life experience.
I have a heartfelt passion for sports, although many people, including a few family members and several friends, think I’m actually anti-sports — or at least way too negative about sports. They say I spend too much time talking and writing about the problems, issues, and challenges in SportsWorld and not enough time focusing on the good things.
On several occasions, people have asked me, “Why are you so angry about what’s going on in sports?”
My response is always, “Why aren’t you angry?”
Robert F. Kennedy once said, “The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country.”
I think that sentiment holds true for sports as well. I believe those who truly love sports should continually work to improve the sports experience for everyone involved. Collectively and individually, I feel we should strive to enhance the positives and mitigate the negatives for all sports stakeholders.
In effect, sport in America today is suffering from soul sickness. Too often, our sports aren’t what they can be at their best. Consider the following brief examples:
• Wide-ranging academic corruption in high school and college athletic programs
• Publicly-financed stadiums, arenas, and sweetheart leases for wealthy owners
• The perversity known as PSLs, in which pro and college football teams force loyal fans to purchase personal seat licenses (PSLs) just to have the right to buy season tickets.
• A focus on varsity athletic teams for elite athletes in high schools and middle schools, while intramural sports programs and physical education classes for all students go the way of the dinosaur. This during an era of rising childhood obesity.
• The prevalence of dehumanizing coaches at all levels, most disturbingly, at the youth level.
• The proliferation of youth club sports organizations that, in reality, have an economic vs. educational and child development mission.
• The specialization and professionalization of young athletes at earlier and earlier ages, resulting in the “burn out” phenomenon and a rise in overuse injuries.
• The increasing use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) 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.
The list could continue for a couple pages. Sports are a great thing when the influences of ego and greed are minimized. The problems start when ego and greed begin to drive the sports policy-and-decision-making bus.
When the desires to win and make money at all costs are the primary drivers in sport — completely neglecting human considerations and what’s best for the sport — sport begins to lose its way.
Too often, when developing sports policies in this country, the first questions asked by those in power — team owners, executives, league commissioners, college sports administrators, and other sports managers — are usually some form of “What’s in it for me/us?” and/or “How can I/we make more money off this game and the people who love it?”
Too rarely do the guardians of our games — at all levels — ask questions such as these: “What’s best for the game?” “What’s best for the players?” and “What’s best for the fans?”
We can’t count on Big Sport (primarily professional sports and highly-commercialized college sports) organizations and individuals to spur change in a system that provides them with numerous economic and political advantages. Change must come from the grassroots, through sports citizens and their individual and collective activism and reform initiatives.
Yes, there are still many good things about sports today. Sport is a socio-cultural institution of much value for a society’s citizens. However, it shouldn’t be driven by win-at-all-costs (WAAC), and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) values from the professional level all the way down to the youth level. There are fundamental social justice issues in sports today that simply aren’t being addressed seriously enough.
And it’s up to us — those who love sports — to do it.
Together, we need to promote fairer sports policies, and push our sports organizations to be more socially responsible in their decision-making and actions.
The sports sociologist Jay Coakley wrote in his book Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies, “Unless we work to create the sports we want in the future, sports will represent the interests of those who want us to play on their terms and for their purposes. This leaves us with an interesting choice: we can be consumers who accept sports as they are, or we can be citizens who use sports as contexts for actively making the world a better place.”
It’s time we all look in the mirror and make that choice.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
Listen on Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor and others.
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More Episodes on Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Google Podcasts; PocketCasts; & Anchor
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.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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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