I am a basketball nut, will watch some football, but find baseball a spectator sport for the players.
Coming from Kansas, basketball is almost a genetic factor, especially when it comes to either the University of Kansas or Kansas State. I have been known to try to get into a field house to watch my alma mater’s team come out on the floor at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of practice.
That being said, I am wondering if we in America have not let sports become too much a part of our lives. What is really bothering me is that it seems that we are paying way too much for entertainment. This not only applies to professional sports, but to amateur sports as well. It seems that sports are no longer just for fun.
I have watched “sandlot” baseball become an organized activity with adult coaches, uniforms, practice schedules and “games.” No longer are the children making up the rules or ruining a pair of jeans. They have to have all the gear that professional adults have. This goes all the way to children in kindergarten. Discovery is not allowed. Making an error is cause for “teaching” the proper way of doing things. Failure is accepted once but training must be done.
Parents are beginning to designate a sport for their children at the elementary level. The kids get to tryout in several but the parents are watching. By the time a child reaches middle-school age, the parent and the child (generally after some cajoling) has picked a sport on which to emphasize. The multiple sport athlete is almost a thing of the past.
By high school, the sport becomes all demanding. There are now spring training camps for football, summer basketball consumes the fledging superstar of the pros. Baseball can run into summer, merely changing the team from dear ole Hickey High to the Stealth Bombers. Summer camps are rated and we parents pay dearly so our son or daughter can achieve a higher level of competency.
At the university and college level, those participating in sports, primarily football and basketball, are almost slave labor. The athletic department is a unit unto itself with the coaches making several times the salary that a full professor makes. We still try to mask this charade by calling the players “student athletes.” The athlete can’t work, earning money can bring punishment to the program and working interferes with the regimen prescribed for the athlete.
Supposedly, all this energy and money going for sports helps enhance team work, self-esteem, good physical health, etc. It also might open the door to a professional career in that sport. The last reason is the one that so many young people hope to achieve and all of us know that the chance of that happening is rare.
There are the negatives that come with the emphasis on sports. How many of our young men and women have been coddled because they were the “stars” of the team? How many of those “stars” finally make into the “big time?” How many of those student athletes graduate with their class in college? For that matter, how many of them ever graduate?
The recent scandals in a cross-section of professional sports should give rise to questioning of our attitude toward sports. Do we coddle too much? Is there too much emphasis put on being a “star?” Are we being charged too much, yes charged, for sports? Think of all the taxes we pay for sports complexes.
Taking sports back to the very beginning of a child’s participation though is a bigger job for all of us. Have we ceased to let children be children? Must everything from “play dates” to baseball or any other sport be organized? If we believe in democracy, why do we become dictators about children’s sports when we become the adults? Let’s let kids be kids. I know that I was allowed to be a kid and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Jack Linden is a retired history professor and a regular contributor to the Gazette-Enterprise editorial page.