By Ken Reed
Don Shula was an old school football coach but he was a progressive thinker in many ways, and not just from a football strategy perspective.
When it came to treating female reporters as equals, he was on the right side of history long before his peers.
In the early 1980s, NFL teams made female reporters wait outside the locker rooms for players to be brought to them after they had spoken with the male reporters inside. In 1981, Shula had his players wear robes in the locker room because there was now a female reporter covering the team, Christine Brennan. Shula wanted to make sure women had the same access as men did. It was four years later, in 1985, before NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made equal locker room access mandatory for every team. Here we are in 2020, and some of today’s macho sexist football coaches still resist treating women reporters equally. Shula was doing it nearly 40 years ago.
At times, Shula was an irascible old school football coach like many of his peers. Nevertheless, Shula, the only coach in NFL history to lead a team to a perfect season (17-0 in 1972) was known throughout his career as a class act. He preached sportsmanship and he and his teams exhibited it. Shula’s teams were usually among the least penalized in the league.
“The key is having respect for the people you’re competing against,” said Shula when asked to define sportsmanship in 2002.
“As the head coach, I always tried to convey to the people I was responsible for that winning certainly was the ultimate goal, but we always wanted to be a team that was known as being good sportsmen and winning within the rules and doing things the right way.”
Ted Hendricks, the Raiders Hall of Famer, once called Shula “the most honest man in the U.S.” Basketball coaching legend and current Miami Heat president Pat Riley says there has been no better man or coach in the history of the profession than Don Shula.
Above all, above the 347 wins, most in NFL history, Don Shula was a man of integrity.
“If I’m remembered for anything, I hope it’s for playing within the rules,” said Shula. “I also hope it will be said that my teams showed class and dignity in victory or defeat.”
Let it be said.
— 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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