In 2002, I published a book titled “Sports: The All-American Addition”. The basic premise was that organized sport in America had evolved to a point where it’s overall impact on our schools, universities and society has become more negative than positive. My analysis focused on five areas: sports’ impact on the values at the center of our civil society, on educational values and institutions, on individual and public health, on school budgets and the economic vitality of a city or region and the notion that sports is a powerful vehicle to promote upward mobility.
I recently re-read the book and was struck by two things.
First, my analysis, narratives and arguments have held up pretty well. For example, sports glorification of violence and win at all cost culture continues to coarsen fundamental tenets of our civil society and that the glorification of athletic accomplishment still too often comes at the expense of academic excellence and educational achievement. Further, organized sports’ impact on individual and public health is not as positive as many believe particularly when increasing amounts of money, energy and emotion is heaped upon the very few, elite athletes while everyone else is pushed to the sidelines to watch, in this one of the most obese nations on the planet. As for economics, it remains true that pro sports teams and municipally funded stadiums are not the “economic drivers” that they are often played up to be. Finally, while the on the field gains for minority athletes have certainly been significant, those same gains, for the most part, still have not materialized in the coaching staffs, front offices and board rooms of college and professional teams.
While I was amused that “The All-American Addiction” has held up pretty well, it was somewhat disconcerting that many of the issues and concerns identified persist. Could it be that we really haven’t made much progress in addressing these issues over the past 15 years?
But then something quite stunning became apparent. Throughout the entire book, the issue of the link between football and brain trauma was not mentioned.
I consider myself an astute observer of trends in athletics so I don’t think this was an omission. Rather, in 2002, the link between football and CTE, concussions and brain trauma was simply not on anyone’s radar screen.
It goes to show you just how much things can change in 15 years.
The relatively recent findings regarding this link will be the most significant and influential development in the history of the game of football and its place in our educational system and society. And we’ve just scratched the surface regarding research efforts and dialogue regarding that impact. As a result, there seems to be a growing realization that the game, both from a physical and cultural sense, has got to change. And by many indications, we are beginning to do something about it from efforts to make the game safer to making it “okay” for a parent or a kid to be able to opt out of playing the game. These are all positive developments.
So maybe we have made some progress. The question is whether we can continue on that path over the next fifteen years.
While there is no telling what football’s impact and influence on American culture will be in 2030, if past is prologue, my guess is that it will be significantly different than it is today.