By Ken Reed
I’ve long found it interesting that a common perception is the United States is a sports-mad country. In reality, we’re a couch potato country when it comes to sports. We love to watch sports but our participation in sports — as adults, at least — is much less than many other countries.
In Europe, for example, soccer clubs often have leagues for those aged 8-80. In the United States, a large percentage of Americans are done playing any form of competitive sport by age 13. Another large group finishes sports participation as soon as high school ends. And then another large chunk of adults are done with playing sports the day they pickup their college diploma.
Yes, there are recreation sports leagues around the country but only a small percentage of American adults take part in those leagues.
That’s why I found a 4th of July weekend article about an 81-year-old baseball player so compelling. Lou Rotola plays baseball, he doesn’t just watch it.
That’s right, he’s 81, and he suits up and plays every week.
“Flat stomach, straight back, 81 years old, my god,” says Mark Danuser, who runs the Here To Play baseball fields where Rotola’s senior teams play. “A lot of guys are just hoping to be able to walk and not be fed their dinner by a spoon, and he’s out there playing ball.”
Rotola loves playing the game and doesn’t believe you need to stop at a certain age, even if you have a few aches and pains.
“I got it all. By no means can I put the uniform on and be pain-free or ache-free,” says Rotola.
“Once I get going here, I put it together. I embrace it rather than deny it. ‘This is what you have, Lou, so make the most of it.’ And before you know it, I’m playing two or three games.
“I just can’t imagine I’m playing. Not because of my age, but the fact that I get to play, with guys who like to play. And I’m leaving it on the field, oh, I’ll tell ya.”
Rotola plans to keep playing until his heart stops ticking.
“Retiring is not in my mind,” says Rotola.
“Like, it’s not in my mind that ‘I guess I won’t play when I get old.’ Because that’s almost beyond me. … Die with your spikes on or something.”
We don’t need all of our octogenarians playing baseball in the United States. But given our country’s rising health care costs and obesity epidemic, we need more adults, 18+, to come out of the stands, or get off their couch, and get back out on the field and into the game.
— 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