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.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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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. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
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.
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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