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Gerry Chidiac: Where sports went wrong (and how to make it right)

We yell at our children and then wonder why they no longer want to play.  We scream at officials and wonder why no one wants to be a referee.
Sarah Beaudry at Beijing Olympics mixed relay
Sarah Beaudry of Prince George took the lead leg of the 4 X 6 km biathlon mixed relay at the Beijing Olympics and helped Canada to a 14th-place finish.

There is a great dichotomy in the world of sports.  They can motivate us to live a healthy lifestyle and achieve things we never thought possible, and they can bring about our demise.  The sports world is full of stories that inspire us, and it is riddled with scandal. 

An honest analysis and a way to draw out what is best in athletics can only be written by a person with a true love of sports, and that is Ken Reed.  His book, HOW WE CAN SAVE SPORTS: A Gameplan, looks at the good, the bad and the ugly, and provides a way forward.  Reed’s website, Leagueoffans.org, also provides a fair and honest discussion of contemporary issues in sports.

People have always played together, and games are an integral part of any society.  People are also physical creatures, so activity and care for our bodies are essential features of our humanity.  As our world becomes more automated, it is vital that we find ways to move and interact.  Sports and recreation, therefore, have possibly become even more essential to our well-being.

But something has gone wrong.  Obesity rates are skyrocketing as we sit on our couches, place bets, and consume carcinogens while millionaires sacrifice their bodies so billionaires can become multi-billionaires.  We even sacrifice the physical and emotional well-being of our youth in the hopes that they will one day be picked to be among the chosen few.  How did we get here?

Two of the issues Reed focuses on are win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities.  They have contaminated all levels of sports, from minor hockey to the National Football League.  We yell at our children and then wonder why they no longer want to play.  We scream at officials and wonder why no one wants to be a referee.  We ignore brain injuries and wonder why parents don’t want their children to play football.  We drain public coffers to build ridiculous stadiums as we rack up credit card debt to place bets or to pay for tickets we can’t afford. 

We’ve forgotten that sports are meant to be fun.  Healthy competition inspires us to achieve heights that we never thought possible.  It also draws us closer to our competitors and helps us to connect with one another as human beings.

Very few of us will ever receive financial compensation for playing sports, but that is not what matters!  Though many of us stop playing sports in our teens, our bodies require that we remain physically active throughout our lives, and there are many fun ways to do so.

Of course, we also need to foster greatness.  Those with the talent and dedication necessary will rise to the highest levels in any athletic activity.  They will face adversities and have to overcome them, and the rest of us will be inspired by their excellence in the same way we are inspired by other forms of art. 

Somewhere along the line, however, we lost our way.  

Reed states, “If we truly care about sports … we need to be sports reformers and sports activists in our own way.”  Each chapter of his book discusses a specific challenge and ends with recommendations on how to overcome it.  The appendix provides a list of organizations already making a positive difference in sports and society.

Physically active children and youth do better in school and lead healthier lifestyles.  They also become healthier adults.  Coaches who respect the humanity of their players also tend to be more effective in the long term, inspiring their charges to be leaders and build a better world.   

More than ever, we need sports to bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.  Thank you, Ken Reed, for shining a light on what is wrong and providing a roadmap to our greatest potential.

Gerry Chidiac is a Prince George writer.

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