Sports Leadership Institute:
Returning Altruism to Sports
you think sports is good for kids?'
Without much thought, each member of the class raises their hands.
The class is a graduate seminar on sports and violence. Most of
the students plan professions as teachers and coaches. They are
certain that sports are good for children.
They are stunned,
when I assert my belief that sports have become a cancer in American
Adding to their
disbelief of my assertion, is that I stand before them as the beneficiary
of successful sports career. Football provided a scholarship to
Syracuse University, award-winning success on the field, celebrity
status and a seven-year professional career in professional football.
I used my status as an athlete to reach out to millions of young
people in community service and educational programs designed to
use sport to help make a better society. As founder and Executive
Director of the Sports Leadership Institute at Adelphi University,
why would I believe that sport is a cancer in our society?
The Sports Leadership
Institute was created by Adelphi University, in summer of 2002,
in collaboration with Athletes Helping Athletes, Inc. (AHA). For
more than 20 years AHA, also housed at AU, has implemented the Student
Athlete Leadership Team program, training high school athletes to
serve as mentors and peer leaders on issues ranging from bullying
to substance abuse prevention. The underlying premise of our programs
is that sport is a powerful teaching tool and provides innumerable
teaching moments to address important social concerns.
In recent years,
however, the role of sports in our society has become increasingly
distorted. The altruistic qualities of teamwork, sacrifice and dedication
have given way to collective bargaining agreements, endorsement
deals and scandals involving the worst of (anti) social behavior.
The altruism has been lost, on all levels.
The most glaring
examples are at the professional level. Currently, criminal trials
involve two of the National Basketball Association's brightest young
stars Kobe Bryant (rape) and former player, turned media star Jason
Williams (murder). Major League Baseball is in the midst of a steroid
investigation that questions the integrity of its home run champions
of the past several years and dozens of prominent players.
On the college
level, the University of Colorado is the focal point of what many
are calling a "recruiting scandal." However, the reality
of Colorado's problem doesn't lay in recruiting, but the culture
that has enabled football players to rape several (10 and counting)
female students in the past seven years. And, as we conclude another
basketball tournament, AKA "March Madness," the NCAA continues
to serve as the governing body of college athletics designed to
protect student athletes. Oh, by the way, the NCAA is also the negotiating
arm of college athletics that signed the eight billion dollar deal
with CBS television to air the tournament. In return student athletes
receive a free education. The problem here is that more than 55%
of the student athletes involved in this year's tournament will
not graduate; a fact that has not changed or been addressed despite
continue claims of exploitation.
On the high
school level, Long Islanders are far too familiar with the case
of three boys being sodomized by their teammates at Mepham High
School in what people continue to call a "hazing" ritual.
The fact is, these boys were not being "hazed," they were
being sodomized. However, this difficult word and our inability
to confront the "football machine" have distracted us
from dealing with the reality of the problem. As a result, the school
district is being sued and the coaches are suing the school district.
Meanwhile, what has outraged most people is not the incident, but
the silence about it.
On the youth
sports level we continue to see the growing problem facing sport
in American society. Seventy percent of children participating in
youth sports drop out by the age of thirteen. The primary reason,
'it's no longer fun.' The primary result is that young people
are not cultivating life long habits of physical activity and sports
participation. With an increasingly alarming obesity problem, particularly
among our youth, this is an important problem to be addressed. The
fact that "play" and "games" are no longer fun
for children should cause alarm.
are not learning citizenship, teamwork, loyalty and sacrifice through
sports. They have adopted the winner-take-all mentality and leave
their social and legal transgressions to their lawyers. In each
of these cases, there are deeper issues at the core, sexual violence,
gambling, drug use and a lack of parental (and adult) responsibility
I'm often asked
about the connection between sexual violence and sport. My response
is simple, early in life most boys hear the "insult" 'you
throw like a girl' or something of this nature. I call it the
language of sport as it attacks ones masculinity in an effort inspire
or degrade. The reality is that it teaches and perpetuates sexist
and misogynistic attitudes and until it's addressed, sport will
continue to be a breeding ground for narrow masculinity and misogyny.
The Sports Leadership
Institute at Adelphi University was created to return altruism to
sport by proactively teaching the altruistic qualities we assume
are inherent in participation. High profile cases and national statistics
are not enough to change the ways in which we take these things
for granted. Comprehensive educational programs and public education
campaigns are necessary to address a society living the illusion
and lie of sport.
image was sold to us by Nike and the NBA. Why don't we hear from
these entities now to vouch for his credibility? And, as young boys
wear his jersey, how do parents explain that their hero is facing
charges of rape, when you they haven't even told their son about
is not whether sports are good for children, but rather, what are
we teaching them through our obsessive and preoccupied sports culture.
[Editor: To find out more about the Sports Leadership Institute,
explore their website below.]