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 #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.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
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.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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