By Ken Reed
One of the most progressive thinkers we have on contemporary sports issues is John Gerdy.
Gerdy was an All-American basketball player at Davidson College and later an athletic administrator and sports management professor. But throughout his career, he’s never been one of those people that keeps doing things just because someone tells him “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”
Gerdy’s career has been all about finding ways to make sports better, for all stakeholders, not just the wealthy and powerful sports barons. He’s written several books towards that end. Today, he writes a blog on sports issues. (He also blogs on music topics, another of his passions.) You can find his work at johngerdy.com.
One of Gerdy’s recent blogs on sports really grabbed me. It was titled, “Sport As a Tool For Civil Rights: You Can’t Have It Both Ways.” It’s his response to those who say “sports should be a ‘safe zone’ from politics and social issues.” Those critics want people who play sports, write about sports, broadcast sports, and manage sports to simply “stick to sports.” They want sport to be a diversion. But sport is not a diversion. Many times sport is life with the volume turned up.
Sport and socio-cultural-political issues have always intersected. Think Jackie Robinson, for starters.
“One of the most important, powerful and fundamental justifications for our society’s tremendous investment in sports is precisely because it has the potential to break down barriers and push for social change and civil rights.”
Nelson Mandela used sport — rugby in particular — to help bring his racially, politically, and socially torn South Africa together.
“Sport has the power to change the world,” said Mandela. “It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
The examples of sport as a powerful social justice and civil rights tool form a long list.
“Sports have long been looked to as a powerful example for social change, particularly as it relates to diversity and civil rights,” writes Gerdy.
“The fundamental principles that drive progress in these areas are fairness, tolerance, cooperation and equal opportunity. Sports is a wonderfully effective platform through which these principles can be demonstrated.”
Indeed. The foundations of sports are equal opportunity, fair play and sportsmanship. As Gerdy points out, those foundations parallel “the fundamental values and principles of civil and human rights.”
“Sports is an enterprise where race, creed and background have, for the most part, little impact on achievement and opportunity, at least compared to many other industries and enterprises,” says Gerdy.
“Coaches are, above all, equal opportunity ‘employers’ interested not in the color of a wide receiver’s skin but in whether that player is able to contribute to the team’s success on the field. Or, to put it in a civil rights context, to play off the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, coaches do not judge players by the color of their skin, but by the content of their ‘game.’ Coaches play the best players regardless of color or creed because they want to win above all else. Their jobs and livelihoods depend on it.”
Now that thinking might be a tad pie-in-the-sky when it comes to SportsWorld but it certainly is more true in sports than any other aspect of our culture.
“The concept of fair play and equal opportunity is sports’ most powerful and important value and characteristic,” concludes Gerdy. “It’s part of sports’ DNA.”
As Mandela said, sport has the power to change the world for the better. And that’s something all of us who love sports can be proud of. Even occasionally-cynical sports reformers like this writer.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
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
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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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