By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
May 7, 2014
I can still vividly remember the joy and excitement I felt after hearing my gym teacher say, “We’re playing dodgeball today.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but for many of my classmates, hearing those same words elicited dread and terror.
I was a multi-sport jock and playing dodgeball in school meant I could use my size and athletic ability to pummel my less physically-gifted classmates before ultimately battling my fellow jocks for dodgeball supremacy. It was a testosterone-laced high — sanctioned by the school nonetheless.
Looking back, I can’t fathom what the educational value of dodgeball could possibly have been. I also have great empathy for the 98-pound weakling who cowered in the corner hoping the inevitable missile coming his way wouldn’t permanently separate his head from his body. And the heavy kid with glasses who wasn’t agile enough to avoid being the depository for five or six balls fired at him simultaneously.
It’s been about a decade now since the movie DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story was released. It received decent reviews and enjoyed a pretty good run at the box office. I saw it and while a good part of the movie was sub-juvenile level, there were definitely some laugh-out-loud scenes.
The problem is, the movie spurred a resurgence of dodgeball in our nation’s schools at a time when we can least afford it. We’ve all heard the statistics about our kids being more overweight and obese than ever before. Thanks to video games, the Internet, cable and satellite TV, smart phones, iPads, and the demise of bicycles, etc., kids aren’t moving enough today. The combination of physical inactivity and poor nutrition has resulted in a bunch of out-of-shape children and adolescents in America. As a result, health issues like high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, once considered adult problems, are impacting kids at an astonishing rate today.
More than ever, kids need to hear the health and wellness messages inherent in a fitness-based physical education program. There’s a growing mound of research that shows quality, daily physical education is the most cost effective way to reach virtually all our children, reduce obesity, and improve overall physical fitness. In addition, multiple studies show that physical education improves academic performance and decreases behavioral problems. Comprehensive PE programs can also help slow down the runaway healthcare costs in this country.
But quality physical education doesn’t include dodgeball. While I certainly appreciate that some children — and even some adults — get enjoyment from the game of dodgeball, it simply doesn’t represent developmentally appropriate content for school-based physical education programs. Dodgeball turns children into human targets, allows for bullying, and is humiliating for some students. Moreover, many students are eliminated from the game early, resulting in limited physical activity during the PE class period.
Perhaps Patches O’Houlihan, the coach of the underdog team of misfits in the movie DodgeBall, said it best: “Dodgeball is a game of humiliation, exclusion and degradation.” Exactly. And while wacky Coach O’Houlihan said it with pride instead of disgust, he nailed the essence of the game. In short, dodgeball is to quality, daily physical education like professional wrestling shows are to the sport of wrestling.
I’ve talked to adults in their 40s who still get a nervous jolt in the pit of their stomach whenever they think about dodgeball in school. They remember being pounded with balls and then sitting on the sidelines while the athletes fought it out for the rest of the period. They were left with bad memories, if not emotional scars, and dodgeball certainly didn’t inspire them to lead physically active lifestyles once they got out of school.
A top-notch physical education program is about meeting the needs of all students, not just the athletically inclined. It’s about getting kids active today and excited about the lifetime benefits of health and wellness. It means emphasizing fitness and physical well-being, not team sports. It’s about assessing students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals, using technology such as heart rate monitors, pedometers and customized software. And it means eliminating activities, including dodgeball, that humiliate students.
I’m not advocating a ban on dodgeball. If there’s a market for it, so be it. I have no problem with private dodgeball organizations or clubs operating outside of school. But there’s simply no place for dodgeball in our publicly-financed schools.
If we are to have any hope of avoiding a medical disaster with this generation of kids, one area that must improve drastically is our country’s physical education system. We’re at a point in our nation’s history where the need to educate young people about the importance of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle has never been greater.
As such, we simply can’t afford to waste precious physical education class time on activities like dodgeball.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site. We discuss his experience at the MLB game at Field of Dreams; his thoughts on the appeal of the Field of Dreams, and baseball in general.
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Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Episode #11 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Latest on Brain Trauma, Concussions and CTE with Dr. Chris Nowinski – Nowinski is CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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