Lots of people grumble about the state of our games, both professional and allegedly amateur.
Ken Reed, sports policy director for the organization League of Fans, wrote a book. It's called "How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan," and includes an introduction from consumer advocate, author, and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Nader also created League of Fans.
"Sometimes people have to be saved from themselves," Nader says.
In the book, Reed argues that calling the U.S. a sports-loving nation is misleading.
"When you look at the United States, we're really a spectator-mad country, not a sports-mad country, like some people label us," Reed says.
When you look at the United States, we're really a spectator-mad country, not a sports-mad country.Ken Reed, author 'How We Can Save Sports'
"They're building an elementary school somewhere in Georgia, and they're not even putting a gym in it anymore," Reed says. "The pressure from 'No Child Left Behind' has put so much focus on science and math and reading that physical activity, art and music and those kind of things are going the way of the dinosaur."
Reed finds this troubling.
"The research shows that fit kids perform better academically, have fewer behavior problems, fewer emotional problems and obviously they're more healthy," Reed says.
Reed and Nader argue that instead of getting fit and staying fit, the U.S. population is watching as only the very best athletes perform, in part because of who's controlling the sports agenda.
"Basically in this country it's a self-regulated monopoly system," Reed says. "The policy-makers are actually the owners of these franchises, and what they do tends to trickle down to the colleges in terms of seat licenses at stadiums and how they market suites at college stadiums, and everything trickles down, and high school sports are becoming much more commercialized now."
[sidebar title="Are Our Sports Broken?" width="630" align="right"]Former Olympic champion Edwin Moses doesn't think so. He says the U.S. is the sports capital of the world.[/sidebar]Nader and Reed argue that a healthier agenda could be set by so-called "citizen sports activists." They would pressure Little League coaches to let everybody play. They would also lobby for more exercise and athletic opportunities for the children who don't make the Little League squads and soccer travel teams.
"One of the saddest stats out there is that nearly 80 percent of kids drop out of competitive organized sports by the age of 13 because they just feel like they're being left out," Reed says.
Citizen sports activists would also support season-ticket-holding consumers who don't want to pay full price to attend pre-season games, and taxpayers saying "No!" to owners who threaten to move their teams if public money doesn't provide them with new buildings, which Nader finds especially galling.
"The money should go to recreational facilities in the neighborhoods," Nader says. "That's where the taxpayer dollar goes. And if the big-time sports with billionaire sports corporations can't build their own stadiums, that's just too bad. If they want to speak like capitalists, they should act like capitalists."
Nader's premise is simple.
"I've always viewed the history of sports as encompassing participants, as many as possible," Nader says.
He also has a vision of what more the corps of empowered citizens could accomplish.
"It would spread out participation in sports right down to the unorganized sports in facilities in the neighborhoods all over the country," Nader says. "It would bring back physical education. It would develop a situation where the whole cultural concept of sports becomes embedded in tens of millions of people so they don't just sit there as spectators, getting overweight at a very young age with very bad nutrition."
According to "How We Can Save Sports," the blueprint for change should include a national sports minister or national commission to set the agenda for sports. Reed says creating that entity would hardly be revolutionary.
"I've looked at countries all over the world, and we're like one of the few, if not the only one, that doesn't have any type of national sports policy, or some countries call them 'sports ministers,'" Reed says. "And I don't know if it's [in the] best interest of the American population to have pro sports owners actually setting de facto sports policy for the entire country."
Bill's Thoughts On 'How We Can Save Sports'
A lot of what Ken Reed and Ralph Nader have to say about sports in the U.S. is obvious. The promising child-athletes are pressured too early to specialize in a sport. The corruption in the college ranks is systemic. The owners of the pro teams have been encouraged to feel entitled to public money, so that's the way they feel.
The extent to which the remedies suggested in "How We Can Save Sports" can work is uncertain. The idea behind an organized group of citizens who would force reform on the system would seem to depend on the common interest of those citizens. Maybe there is such a thing, or could be, but maybe fans are varied enough in terms of their backgrounds, their resources, and their reasons for caring about specific teams and athletes that a commonality of interest would be impossible to establish, let alone sustain. Unions work because the members have a genuine and obvious stake in working together for the common good. For a lot of people, the games are a diversion. Many of them are perhaps too busy with the challenges of their daily lives already. Do they really want to get involved in trying to reform something that's supposed to just be fun? Reed and Nader hope they do.
This segment aired on February 28, 2015.