• Last modified 1140 days ago (April 29, 2021)


the lessons of sports

Four ideas that could do more to improve sports than debating whether five — yes, there are only five — transgendered school kids in Kansas should compete against kids of their birth gender or their chosen gender:

Emphasizing “student” in student athletics — At big universities, student-athletes are minor leaguers, trying out for careers as professionals. Their teams are big-dollar entertainment lures for prospective students and donors. Recruiting them from outside a school’s normal student body — and paying them — might make sense.

But at other schools and in minor sports, athletes have no realistic hope of turning pro. There are no massive arenas to fill and no broadcast and merchandising rights to sell. Is it unfair and perhaps a bit cruel to import to these schools rent-a-jocks who take playing time away from traditional students seeking to compete only for fun?

One of the joys of watching any sport is seeing young people who are our friends, neighbors, or relatives giving it their all as standard-bearers for a community, geographic or spiritual, that both the athlete and the spectator belong to.

Recruiting from outside that community and allowing such abominations as the NCAA transfer portal (the collegiate equivalent of professional free agency) to destroy one of the most endearing qualities of sport.

Zero tolerance at all levels — The first thing any kid hears in driver education is that driving is a privilege, not a right. Perhaps that lesson needs to be clear in sports as well.

We’re all sick of stories about steroid-juiced behemoths being arrested for doing drugs and slapping people around, only to receive token suspensions from their professional leagues.

It’s even more troubling when less-famous rent-a-jocks — not just at schools like Tabor, where six basketball players from out of state were arrested last week — get as much ink on police blotters as they do in sports record books.

Athletes are supposed to be our heroes. If they can’t be heroic by following the law and being not just minimal but above-average students, perhaps the most humane thing we could do is give them the time they need to accomplish these goals by not exposing them to the distraction of trying to score goals in sports when they can’t achieve goals in life.

A different definition of class — In the name of competition, we too often kill any sense of real competition by creating so many different classes and sub-classes that almost everyone is guaranteed some sort of trophy.

Not only does this force school districts into the dangerous, costly, and environmentally unfriendly role of having to transport students hundreds of miles so they can compete only against students from schools of exactly the same size.

It destroys natural rivalries among neighboring communities and gives kids a false sense that the real world, which they are about to enter, will similarly shelter them from competition against all comers.

Local businesses compete not just with other local businesses. They compete with big-box operations, online concerns, and specialized contractors from across the nation and planet. Training a future generation of local leaders by sheltering them from the ways of the real world cripples their ability to compete while taking time and resources away from the education that might help them become more competitive.

We may not be ready to go back to the halcyon days of prep sports, when everyone competed in just one class. But it’s important to note that the most revered local sports teams of the past performed in such an environment, which may be among the reasons their records remain meaningful decades later.

Coaches as teachers — Years ago, all coaches were teachers. It was the law. Hiring someone who wasn’t a teacher merely to coach was forbidden.

The system wasn’t perfect. This writer, for example, learned typing from a coach whom no one ever saw actually type. But requiring that coaches be teachers forced schools and students to focus on a few key sports and do them well rather than diluting the talent pool by spreading it across too many different teams.

The plethora of amateur-led school sports that have replaced what used to be rec leagues has taken another toll. Activities like FFA, band, debate, and other non-athletic pursuits that might have more lifelong value failed to garner sufficient interest to be as vibrant as they once were.

Instead of preparing for life, we indulged our students by playing yet more games, and the games too often were rigged to make sure everyone won. The biggest casualty has been to create a generation of potential community leaders without the leadership skills needed to help guide their communities in a highly competitive world.

We sacrificed long-term success for fleeting, self-indulgent happiness. This isn’t true of every student in every sport, of course. But it’s a pattern we need to look at with at least some fraction of the interest generated by considering the fate of just five transgendered students statewide. If we truly care about sports and students, we need to discuss real issues, not fake ones that do little other than generate hits on anti-social media.


Last modified April 29, 2021