The joy of sports is disappearing

 

It can be ripping a pitch, putting one through a hoop, kicking a ball or navigating an icy surface on narrow blades. Getting involved in sports is an exhilarating experience for many young children.

The excitement continues into adolescence and beyond for some, as they play for higher stakes against peers from other neighborhoods and schools. One doesn’t have to be physically gifted, though, to derive lifetime benefits from sports. They teach us camaraderie, the importance of teamwork and the value of fitness in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

Watching athletic events in person or on television is an enjoyable pastime for millions worldwide, an appealing diversion from the rigors of everyday life. Fans’ devotion often extends beyond the games and performances, as they tune in sports talk shows and read print and online accounts throughout the week, the month and the season. Steelers talk frequently dominates Monday morning conversations around here.

In recent years, however, sports have been losing a key element that made them so appealing. They aren’t as much fun – and, in some instances, are no fun at all.

The national anthem flap enveloping the National Football League is the latest example of the unsavory underbelly of sports. To take a knee or not take a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner” became a political football, if you will.

Major-college football and basketball are popular among the sporting masses. The games are exciting and played at a high level. But those sports, major revenue producers for their institutions, also have been slimy for decades, wracked by improprieties and rocked by scandals – on those rare occasions when improprieties are uncovered. (There is a subliminal mindset at larger schools that, “Hey, if we don’t cheat, we fall behind.”)

The recent recruiting scandal in college hoops cost Rick Pitino his head-coaching job at the University of Louisville. It was not the first time Pitino has been embroiled in a scandal.

High school football and basketball, considered “pure” not so long ago, are lamentably becoming seamy. Private and Catholic schools, which generally don’t have residential “borders,” have been found guilty of recruiting. But so have a number of public schools. The pressure to enroll at their schools can’t be fun for the kids or their parents.

Speaking of parents ... they may be undermining scholastic football and basketball programs more than traveling AAU teams. Parents are well-meaning, of course – they believe their offspring are the best players on their teams. But while touting their kids, they frequently interfere with the coaches, even berate and hassle them. About 15 years ago, Jim Render, the uber-successful football coach at Upper St. Clair, was nearly ousted because of parental opposition. He is now the winningest football coach in WPIAL history.

Then there are youth travel sports. How do they benefit kids as young as 7 or 8? They haven’t developed many of their physical skills and, besides, who wants to devote every July day to travel baseball or practice?

Sports should be enjoyable, to some extent, for everyone involved. Unfortunately, they are becoming less fun by the day.

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