Sports is entertainment – nothing more, nothing less. History does not provide us with any examples where sports – individual or team – have had any appreciable impact on the well-being of society. It will not solve the world’s problems with hunger, disease, climate change, or violence. In essence, sports provide just one thing – entertainment. Why then do we take it so seriously? More importantly, why do we allow so many school-age children to put sports ahead of their studies? Yes – sports can certainly serve a worthwhile purpose, such as teaching people the importance of competition and the value of teamwork. This, however, is by no means enough to put it ahead of academics. We need to put sports in perspective for our children and help them understand, from an early age, that society benefits most from those who are willing to tackle the many medical, political, and social challenges facing us – not from those who play baseball, soccer, football, or basketball.
Seven years before he completed his famous study in 1966, titled Equality of Educational Opportunity (better known as the Coleman Report), James Coleman both studied and wrote about the implications of sports for school age children. He argued that a significantly greater number of students, especially boys, would prefer to be remembered for being star athletes than for their academic prowess. For all practical purposes academics continue to be marginalized in favor of sports, in large part because we have made sports larger than life in America. It takes up far too much of our time and we fail to put it in proper context for our children. They need to know that sports is a secondary issue that should receive attention only after the school work has been properly completed.
When Duke University’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski won his 1,000th game early last year the local newspaper feted him to a front page exclusive – no other news was mentioned. As a matter of fact, his accomplishment was the talk of the local media for a number of days. Conversely, the large majority of new and very significant breakthroughs in science, math, or how our solar system was created, are most often relegated to an obscure page somewhere near the back of the local newspaper. Are our priorities disjointed? You bet they are. More importantly, we are sending the worst possible message to our children – that sports, which will not put food on their tables, is more important than the work that will ultimately define them as human beings.