Leading the sports revolution

For someone who truly loves sports, I take quite a bit of abuse for supposedly “hating” them.

As a contributor to Mile High Sports since year two, I’ve written a lot of columns and feature stories through the years for Colorado’s best sports publication. And some of the opinions on sports issues I’ve shared with Mile High Sports readers have been met with anger.

However, those comments have been few and far between compared to the ones I get in my position as sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform organization based in Washington, D.C. In that role, I write position papers, columns and a blog on what we think are the biggest and most important issues in sports today. I often call for significant change and that can raise the ire of traditionalists.

Besides being called a “sports hater,” “commie” (more than once) and “pinko,” I’ve also been labeled “wimpy boy” and a lot more derogatory things that question my… let’s say toughness. One guy described me as “a guy who hates what’s great about sports and America.” Ouch.

However, my personal favorite came from someone who thinks I’m a “pencil-neck ivory tower geek who wouldn’t know the difference between a football and a basketball.”

Well, my neck is on the thin side, and I might not know the recommended PSI for footballs or basketballs, but the truth is, I do have an appreciation for sports from a variety of perspectives. I’m the son of a coach, and I played two varsity sports in college. I’m also a former coach, scout, referee, sports event manager and sports marketer. I’ve written a sports column, been a sports talk show host and have a doctorate degree in sports management.

But perhaps most importantly, I truly am passionate about sports – and all the positives associated with them – despite what some of my “fans” might think. I’ve enjoyed a lot of tremendous sports experiences, in various capacities, throughout my life. My best friends have come through sports. My kids are big into sports. Sports are a big part of who I am, good or bad. There’s nothing better, in my mind, than sport at its best.

That said, I’m also fed up with what sports have become in some areas, and what they’re becoming in others: Ego- and greed-driven activities characterized by win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) ethos – from the pros to the youth sports level. And that’s the foundation of my criticism of some aspects of sports today.

But I see that criticism as the output of a sports lover, not a sports hater.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country.”

If you replace “country “ in that sentence with “sports,” you’ll have an idea where I’m coming from. My bet is that despite some of the negative comments I receive, a lot of the rest of you feel the same way.

As a sports reformer, sports activist or advocate for sports at their best – whatever you want to call me (see above for more inflammatory options) – there are several things that I think need to happen in order to improve the world of sports for all stakeholders, not just those with the power and money.

I believe in social and economic justice in sports, which means things like equal opportunity in sports regardless of gender, and allowing big-time college athletes to benefit financially from their fame and likenesses – just like every other student on campus has the right to do.

I want to make the games safer for participants by addressing the concussion issue head on and looking for ways to slow the growing number of overuse injuries suffered by our youngest athletes.

I encourage sports spectators to also become sports participants. The United States is a sports-mad country, but only when it comes to fandom.

I want youth sports to be a lot more about the kids, and a lot less about the adults.

I’d like to see more humanistic coaches and fewer militaristic coaches, so young athletes don’t have to be subjected to the physical and mental abuse that too often drives them out of sports.

I believe that if sport and physical activity is good for students (and it is, physically, mentally and emotionally), then all students should have the opportunity to participate. That means daily physical education classes and intramural sports programs need to take budgetary priority over varsity athletic programs in our schools.

And I don’t think taxpayers in communities struggling to pay for teachers, police officers, libraries and road maintenance should be asked to build billion-dollar sports palaces for ultra-wealthy pro sports owners.

There’s more, of course. But you get the idea.

Ultimately, my goal is to help enhance the positives and mitigate the negatives in sports world, in any way possible. To that end, I’ve written a sports manifesto of sorts, a book about current sports issues called How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. It’s out this week.

It includes my recommendations for addressing what I consider to be the nine most important issues in sports today. But more than that, it’s a call for Citizenship Through Sports Activism, and it includes many ideas and resources for anyone interested in reforming something in the world of sports – whether that be modifying your local youth sports organization’s concussion policy or changing the National Football League’s nonprofit status. (You read that right.)

It must be understood and accepted that those who currently have the power and money in sports aren’t looking to change the sports systems and models in place. Therefore, sports reform requires a grassroots effort.

“Any revolution starts in the countryside, with the peasants rising up,” says veteran sportswriter Robert Lipsyte. “The influence of the power holders in sports won’t change unless the peasants rise up.”

An effective democracy requires active citizenship. It can take place in many areas. For sports lovers, what better way to make a difference in the world than through sports?

Pick an issue and rise up.

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Long-time Mile High Sports contributor Ken Reed has a new book out today, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. The publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, is offering Mile High Sports readers a 30% discount on the book. For more info on the book visit here:

Ways to Order:

PROMO CODE: 4S15HWCSS

Go to rowman.com and type in “Ken Reed” or the book title. At checkout, there’s a box for the promo code.

Call Rowman & Littlefield toll-free at 1.800.462.6420 to order the book and give them the promo code.

The book is also available at Amazon.com.

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