By Ken Reed
Recently, I was chatting with a group of sports fans about the state of sports. Each of them were disillusioned by SportsWorld today. And the primary reason cited was that they see sports being driven more and more by the chase for money, even at the youth sports level. To them, the concept of sport as a cultural practice is being wiped out. Instead, they see sport being driven more and more by profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) ethos, which negatively shapes sports policy, even at the lower levels.
That group discussion made me think of a conversation I had with Joe Ehrmann several years ago. Joe is a former National Football League star, playing most of his career with the Baltimore Colts. After his playing career, he became an ordained minister and social justice activist in Baltimore’s inner city. He is currently the President of the InSideOut Initiative, an evidenced-based, systems-level approach that inspires and catalyzes communities to transform the current sports culture to one that values the human growth and development of athletes. He has been called, “The most important coach in America,” by Parade magazine.
At one point in my interview with Ehrmann, I asked him, “What should sports be about?” This was his answer:
Sports should be about the social, moral and ethical development of young people. It’s about character if done the right way. However, one of the great myths is that sports build character. That’s certainly not true in the win-at-all-costs world of sports in our culture.
Life is a team sport. Nobody goes through this world alone. It’s about a commitment to relationships and treating people with respect and dignity as you work on a cause. That’s what team sports can teach at their best. Team sports are about a set of relationships working on a cause.
Sports should be about creating good citizens and change agents. Sports should be a means to an end. Today, sports have become an end in themselves.
I also believe sports should be co-curricular, not extra-curricular. Every coach has the last classroom of the day. Coaches should be teachers and act like teachers. I n a math class, we would never tolerate a teacher swearing, yelling at kids, or shaming a kid because they got a math equation wrong. Why do we allow that in sports?
We also need to look at athletic competition differently. It shouldn’t be about winning-at-all-costs. It should be viewed as a mutual quest for excellence.
Finally, sports should be about the health and well-being of every participant. We need to get more kids involved and create more alternatives so every kid can participate in team sports.
I can’t argue with anything Ehrmann said. His answer was focused on sport at the youth, high school, and college levels. To be sure, professional sports is a different animal. For pro athletes, sports participation is a job. It’s about performance and if you don’t perform you will be out of a job.
However, at any level, including the professional level, there’s still the soul of sports, but that soul is regularly being obliterated by greed and all the problems that flow from greed.
One thing’s for sure, SportsWorld would be a lot healthier place if more people took the approach to sports that Joe Ehrmann does.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
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 and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
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.
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
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon