By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
April 3, 2016

Imagine the world of sports without ego.

No more trashtalking, showboating, cheating, cheap shots or running up the score. No more wackadoo parents and coaches ruining youth sports. No more prima donna professional athletes.

The win-at-all-costs mentality? Gone. The me-first athlete? History. Greedy owners that put their wallets ahead of what’s best for the game? Bye-bye.

As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine ….”

Sports have always brought out the best and worst in people. One of the compelling aspects of sports is that character is openly on display. Problem is, the ugly side of sports is getting way too loud. The ego in sports has run amok. And as the ego takes center stage, things like sportsmanship take a back seat.

Too often, it seems, this is SportsWorld’s unspoken refrain:

“Sportsmanship? Sportsmanship? We’re talking about sportsmanship? What does sportsmanship matter? I’m talking about winning. I’m talking about my next contract and my endorsement deals …. I’m talking about a scholarship for my little Tyler or Alyssa …. I’m talking about winning a league championship … and a State Cup …. I’m talking about more luxury suite and club seat revenue …. I’m talking about that dream D-I job I’m after …. Sportsmanship? That’s a quaint little notion but it’s way down the list of my real priorities.”

Ego-driven sports behavior is everywhere, at every level. Its rise is overshadowing the true essence of sports.

If ego in sports was just limited to greedy, “I got to get mine” pro athletes and owners, the pain wouldn’t be so sharp and deep. But ego drives college sports too — at least at the Division I level where universities have sold their collective souls to the athletic department and chucked their educational values in the process.

Sadly, it’s also seeped down to the high school level. Schools across the country are taking big dollars from the McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s of the world in order to boost athletic department budgets. The junk food giants are allowed to advertise at sporting events and sell their products inside the schools. Sometimes their logos are plastered on school walls. School administrators sign these deals while studies about the childhood obesity crisis and its negative impact on the short-term and long-term health of our kids sit on the corners of their desks.

And youth sports. Ahh, youth sports. The last bastion of sports purity, right? Wrong. Today’s youth sports scene is about powerful soccer, basketball and volleyball clubs fighting each other for 10 year-olds they can funnel into their elite competitive programs. It’s about coaches whose personal identities are tied to the number of state championships on their resumes. It’s about parents screaming on the sidelines at each other while their eight year-olds look on from the court. It’s about suburbanite parents breaking the bank to pay for travel team fees in quest of the holy grail of an athletic scholarship.

Despite all the ego-based negatives in today’s SportsWorld, there are still some pearls out there. Little stories in the back of the sports section that stir the soul. While too many Sports Center headlines bring forth tears of sadness and shame, it’s the snippets about obscure athletes who bless us with shining examples of the human spirit that give us reason for hope.

Consider one of my favorite sports stories of all time: In a game against rival Central Washington, Western Oregon softball player Sara Tucholsky hit a long drive over the center-field fence for what appeared to be her first home run. But she missed first base in the excitement and seriously injured her knee making a quick move to get back and touch the base. Help from teammates, coaches or trainers — or replacing Tucholsky with a pinch runner — meant the home run would only count as a single. Meanwhile, Central Washington’s Mallory Holtman asked the umpires if it would be okay for her to carry Tucholsky to each base. The umpires said yes and Holtman and teammate Liz Wallace carried Tucholsky around the bases, pausing at each base so Tucholsky could touch the bag with her good leg. In the end, Tucholsky’s home run helped Western knock Central out of the playoffs.

Now that’s beautiful stuff.

In the big picture, it really is about how you play the game.

Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.

Follow Ken Reed on Twitter.


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