I love sports.
I'm also fed up with sports.
I'm guessing that a lot of you are conflicted in the same way.
I've been involved in the world of sports, in one capacity or another, my entire life. Born the son of a coach, I played organized competitive athletics from Little League through college. I've been a coach, scout, sports administrator, sports marketing consultant, sports studies professor, and sports issues columnist.
It's safe to say that sports have influenced who I am today -- for better and worse -- more than anything else. It's the single thread woven throughout my life experience.
I have a heartfelt passion for sports, although many people, including a few family members and several friends, think I'm actually anti-sports -- or at least way too negative about sports. They say I spend too much time talking and writing about the problems, issues, and challenges in SportsWorld and not enough time focusing on the good things.
On several occasions, people have asked me, "Why are you so angry about what's going on in sports?"
My response is always, "Why aren't you angry?"
Robert F. Kennedy once said, "The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country."
I think that sentiment holds true for sports as well. I believe those who truly love sports should continually work to improve the sports experience for everyone involved. Collectively and individually, I feel we should strive to enhance the positives and mitigate the negatives for all sports stakeholders.
In effect, sport in America today is suffering from soul sickness. Too often, our sports aren't what they can be at their best. Consider the following brief examples:
• Wide-ranging academic corruption in high school and college athletic programs
• Publicly-financed stadiums, arenas, and sweetheart leases for wealthy owners
• The perversity known as PSLs, in which pro and college football teams force loyal fans to purchase personal seat licenses (PSLs) just to have the right to buy season tickets.
• A focus on varsity athletic teams for elite athletes in high schools and middle schools, while intramural sports programs and physical education classes for all students go the way of the dinosaur. This during an era of rising childhood obesity.
• The prevalence of dehumanizing coaches at all levels, most disturbingly, at the youth level.
• The proliferation of youth club sports organizations that, in reality, have an economic vs. educational and child development mission.
• The specialization and professionalization of young athletes at earlier and earlier ages, resulting in the "burn out" phenomenon and a rise in overuse injuries.
• The increasing use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) at all ages, by both males and females.
• The erosion of the core ideals, values and ethics of sports, resulting in escalating incidents of poor sportsmanship.
The list could continue for a couple pages. Sports are a great thing when the influences of ego and greed are minimized. The problems start when ego and greed begin to drive the sports policy-and-decision-making bus.
When the desires to win and make money at all costs are the primary drivers in sport -- completely neglecting human considerations and what's best for the sport -- sport begins to lose its way.
Too often, when developing sports policies in this country, the first questions asked by those in power -- team owners, executives, league commissioners, college sports administrators, and other sports managers -- are usually some form of "What's in it for me/us?" and/or "How can I/we make more money off this game and the people who love it?"
Too rarely do the guardians of our games -- at all levels -- ask questions such as these: "What's best for the game?" "What's best for the players?" and "What's best for the fans?"
We can't count on Big Sport (primarily professional sports and highly-commercialized college sports) organizations and individuals to spur change in a system that provides them with numerous economic and political advantages. Change must come from the grassroots, through sports citizens and their individual and collective activism and reform initiatives.
Yes, there are still many good things about sports today. Sport is a socio-cultural institution of much value for a society's citizens. However, it shouldn't be driven by win-at-all-costs (WAAC), and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) values from the professional level all the way down to the youth level. There are fundamental social justice issues in sports today that simply aren't being addressed seriously enough.
And it's up to us -- those who love sports -- to do it.
Together, we need to promote fairer sports policies, and push our sports organizations to be more socially responsible in their decision-making and actions.
The sports sociologist Jay Coakley wrote in his book Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies, "Unless we work to create the sports we want in the future, sports will represent the interests of those who want us to play on their terms and for their purposes. This leaves us with an interesting choice: we can be consumers who accept sports as they are, or we can be citizens who use sports as contexts for actively making the world a better place."
It's time we all look in the mirror and make that choice.