Time to re-value athletics

by Ryan Stevens

For centuries upon centuries, human beings have enjoyed some form of athletic competition, and in the United States especially, sports play a huge role in society. Sporting events of many categories bring in massive revenues, provide hours and hours of entertainment for countless fans, and often serve to bridge the gaps between individuals with little else in common. Today, however, sports have gone beyond simple fun and games, and athletic competition has shifted into a defining attribute of American society, one that is overvalued on multiple fronts.

Overemphasizing sports has negative effects that begin with the most impressionable demographic: children. Starting at a very young age, parents and coaches often encourage children to engage in athletic activities, and to strive for a competitive edge all the way through high school, as an added bonus for college enrollment. On the surface level this is natural, but problems arise when these authority figures, influenced by the culture that surrounds them, push children too far. According to Children’s Hospital Boston, “Most organized sports-related injuries (62 percent) occur during practice.”

Children are pushed to a point beyond safety, and often succumb to delusions of grandeur in the pros. While striving for excellence is rarely a negative influence, this need for children to perform above average in areas of athleticism often comes at great expense to the child. Often parents and coaches will try to push children to develop skills in a particular sport so hard that it causes psychological damage. An organization called Moms’ Team says that child psychologists claim that “Early specialization and intense participation on select teams may interfere with normal identity development.” This extreme need for athletic perfection comes from a deep-rooted societal influence.

Even further than children, America’s obsession with sports has produced a society where athletics are more important than pressing national issues such as politics or global humanitarian conflicts. In an article for Journal-News.net, journalist Don Smith claims that he, like many other Americans, spends far more time “following sports than topics that are really much more important.” Smith says that sports is followed with much more vigor even than politics, a topic directly relevant and affected by almost every American. Humanitarian crises go virtually unnoticed by comparison, and Smith opens up in his article, saying “I’m aware that thousands of people are starving today in Africa, but I have spent more time studying Derek Jeter’s hitting stats…” This confession is not only true for Smith, but for thousands of Americans every day.

Entire media organizations are devoted to sports coverage, analysis and commentary, something not true for academics or humanitarian causes.

What’s more, American value systems have placed sports on such a pedestal,that some social commentators believe they even affect the religious communities negatively.  Biblical condemnation of idolatry is often a struggle for current day American Christians, and idols such as money, fame, power or work are often cautioned as things that can be detrimental when placed above God. In a blog by Brent Nelson entitled “When Does Sport Become Idolatry?” Nelson suggests that sports can easily become an idol in a person’s life, especially when so many sacrifices are made to accommodate it.

This is clearly emphasized in American society where physical health, academic success and often family life are sacrificed in the pursuit of athletics.

So often are we told that athletes are given millions of dollars to devote a short portion of their life to a game, while teachers are drastically underpaid to educate our very own children. And yet what is being done to change this?

A recent conflict over billion dollar contracts left the NBA in a state of turmoil for months, while athletes and coaches argued over ridiculously high salaries. Fans were outraged and fearful.  During this time, Joseph Kony, a recently famous criminal in Uganda, was kidnapping children for an army of child soldiers. And yet it was not until this year, thanks to a viral video that shocked news organizations across the board, are we aware that something so horrendous has been going on for almost 30 years.

Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing, or so the saying goes. Perhaps it’s time to consider the ramifications of this in the world of sports.

Stevens is a sophomore majoring in English and French. Comments can be sent to rstevens15@my.whitworth.edu.

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