I cheered when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

I hope that the hapless Astros might someday cobble together a 15 game win streak.

And, as always, Hook ‘Em.

I make those statements so that you know I am not a prude when it comes to sports.  I enjoy a good game and I have my favorites.

This morning I heard an interesting commentary from the sometimes interesting Frank DeFord.  (To listen to the podcast called Sports Reporting:  The Way It Was . . . And Is, click here.)  Deford’s melodic voice sometimes is cogent and sometimes is not and is always cranky-old-manish, but this morning something he said struck a nerve in me.  He asked whether or not sports builds character.

It is something we’ve heard, perhaps young men more than women, over and over and over again all our lives.  “Sports build character” is almost chanted as irrefutable proof that high schools and colleges are justified in spending millions of dollars on stadiums and gymnasiums.  It is also what brings solace to parents standing in a February cold rain all day on a Saturday while their 6th grade son or daughter chases a soccer ball around in the mud.  Or sits on the bench.

nfl_u_kaepernick6x_600x400
Colin Kaepernick showing his character by belittling Cam Newton’s character.

I disagree.  I do not believe sports builds character at all.  Sports may reveal good character, but it doesn’t build good character.  Good character is built by:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Civics classes
  • Churches
  • Books
  • The military
  • Experiences
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Public service
  • Merit Groups (Like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts)

Character comes from a great many places–and from almost anywhere, except sports.  I will grant that coaches, as leaders, can help build character.  However, a coach is just as likely to not.

Paradoxically, sports tends to teach the wrong kinds of lessons, I think.  Sports teaches:

  • Arrogance
  • The bigger, stronger, faster are better
  • Privilege
  • Win at all costs
  • Cheating is okay if you don’t get caught
  • People are disposable
  • Classism
  • Misogyny
  • Triumphalism
  • Violence

In fact, let me recant myself.  Sports does teach character.  It teaches bad character.  When people got angry at Richard Sherman earlier this year for his antics after the NFC Championship game, they should have stopped and considered that his statements were the logical results of what sports teach.

I’m not against sports, really I’m not.  I just think we need to stop lying to ourselves with the deception that if we make our children play sports then it is undeniably a good thing for them.  It is not.  It is but one option in a large range of options, and it is an option that may get them hurt, bullied, or belittled.  I’m not even sure people under the age of 16 ought to be allowed to play league sports.  Of course, there is no money in that.

 

image from espn.go.com

 

 

 

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