This weekend I was watching the film "WeCould Be King", a documentary that follows the difficult circumstances of Philadelphia High School students who are involved in the football program. In Philadelphia there was a "doomsday" budget approved that shut down public schools while hundreds of people lost their jobs. Meanwhile students from Germantown High were forced to go to their rivals' school: Martin Luther King Jr High School.
What was significant about this documentary is that it embodies why I value sports so much, especially for young people. "Student-Athletes", as they have been labeled, are working the equivalent of full-time jobs: 6-7 hours of school Monday through Friday, followed by 2 hours of practice, then on the weekends they have games and/or homework to work on also. In all levels of academics, students are prepared for the real world. You have to get to class on time, you learn to deal with good/bad supervisors; meanwhile you have responsibilities to yourself and your teammates to maintain a certain level of Grade Point Average AND perform on game day! You learn how to work with and without people, you are held to a higher standard than other students, all the while having to deal with whatever personal issues that may come up each day.
So this bogus idea that bureaucrats on the Philadelphia School Boards and in multiple levels of government where cutting back funding for sports, music and other extra circular activities is disgraceful. They would rather take away productive outlets for students time, keeping them out of trouble, than constructively balance a budget? The reality, as the documentary points out, that students who do not get involved in after school activities are 57 percent more likely to not graduate than those who are involved in sports, music and other clubs. Chew on that point for a minute: FIFTY-SEVEN PERCENT more likely to be drop outs!
The point I am getting to is not a political one, but about the merits of athletics. Sports amplifies and accentuates the realities of the world around us. In sports you learn the values of working hard, working with others, deadlines, structure, rules, finding one’s strengths and working on their weaknesses in order to be successful. We need all of these skills to survive in the real world of business and personal life. Is that coach or referee unfair? Well so is that boss you can’t stand at the job you need to pay the bills. Having to work with different types of people in order to be successful in the game? You have to deal with similar people everywhere in life. You have to compete to play for your team then you have to compete with your opponent. There is similar competition in the business world as well.
On the flip side of the sports world paradigm you have the Donald Sterling/Los Angeles Clippers fiasco in the NBA. We see how the adage "Money Talks" has great influence over that situation. It has been known for over a decade about Donald Sterling prejudice in his business operations as a landlord kicking out minorities living in his properties and the racial discrimination suit by former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor. So why is the NBA pushing him out now? Because big businesses are suspending their advertising dollars involving the LA Clippers and the NBA. We see this at many levels outside of sports; boycotts and protests along with lobbyists and campaigns influence public reactions and business decisions.
So in the end, if you "hate sports" or think "sports are stupid" then what you really dislike is reality. Sports is an in-your-face, grandiose display of the world around us absorbed into the live performance of athletics. Sports is a catalyst for social change, like Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Baseball, paving the way for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Sports forces us to question stereotypes, like 5’6" Doug Flutie winning the Heisman Trophy in the 1980’s and having a long professional football career. Sports puts a spotlight on medical and health issues, like the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Baseball or Concussions' long term effects on mental health in Football and Combat athletes. It was sports that helped many cope with the tragedies of 9/11 as people had a medium to channel their patriotism and national resolve. And last but not least, thanks to collegiate sports tens of thousands of young people get scholarships to go to college each year; many of those same youth cannot afford a college education and are given that opportunity thanks to athletics.
So here’s to the Sports World, affecting change in the lives of so many for over a century. This is why I love Sports.