Stop acting as PR agents for the sports leagues
By Ken Reed
The mainstream sports media continues to avoid any serious examination of important social, cultural and economic issues in SportsWorld.
Any reporting on sports policy issues is typically done at a very superficial level. At best, reporters identify the symptoms and then move on to lighter fare. And it’s typically not the sports reporters’ fault: they are at the mercy of their bosses.
There are exceptions for sure, but for the most part, sports media organizations, and their reporters, simply don’t do in-depth research regarding why these issues exist and what can be done to fix them. There’s no systemic investigation of root causes and no analysis of the sports models leading to the problems.
The reason is simple enough: there is a strong symbiosis between the mass media and sports organizations. That symbiosis is cemented by a shared quest for profit-at-all-costs (PAAC). In effect, sports media organizations are partners with the leagues and individual franchises they “cover.” As such, sports reporters serve – many reluctantly, in order to keep their jobs – in the role of PR agents for the sports leagues and teams on their beat. When that happens, the interests of other important sports stakeholders, like athletes and fans, are at best ignored and at worst deemed irrelevant.
There certainly isn’t a lack of sports issues to examine. Consider just a few:
1) brain trauma at the high school and youth levels, particularly in football, where games and practices are often conducted without any medical personnel present;
2) the emphasis on elite athletics and spectator sports while completely ignoring “sports for all” initiatives for athletes of all ages;
3) the serious decline in physical education and intramural sports programs in K-12 education during a childhood obesity epidemic, and as a growing mound of research reveals fit kids perform better academically;
4) the physical, mental and emotional harm that occurs when kids are pushed to specialize in a single sport at an early age;
5) the widening gap in opportunities and funding between female and male sports;
6) taxpayer and consumer rip-offs in the subsidized construction and operation of stadiums, arenas and ballparks, while simultaneously local public recreational athletic facilities are crumbling or, in some cases, non-existent;
7) the over-commercialization and professionalization of youth and high school sports;
8) the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) mentality of too many adults (coaches and parents) in youth sports; and
9) the societal acceptance of tyrannical youth and high school coaches when classroom teachers are fired for similar abusive behaviour.
Unfortunately, executives at sports media organizations view sporting events at the professional and college levels (and increasingly at the high school level – and sadly, even the little league level) as simply vehicles for selling advertising and not activities deserving true journalistic oversight.
From a journalism ethics perspective, the sports media has the social responsibility to provide more than game stories, coach firings, player trades, and the latest injury news. All of us who love sport and want to see it more consistently at its best have to do a better job of holding the sports media’s feet to the fire when it comes to fulfilling their journalistic responsibility to cover sports policy issues in a serious manner and hold sports power brokers accountable.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans, why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks, and the fact the vast majority of players are for more protective netting in stadiums.
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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 member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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.”
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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