As a child, I spent the majority of my free time outdoors. Growing up in a Pittsburgh suburb, there was never a shortage of playmates. Sports and Pittsburgh go hand in hand. We always found ways to turn even the most seemingly uneventful afternoon into a neighborhood-wide athletic competition of some sort.
We didn’t just run down the sidewalk; we raced. We played in the street, which my own children think is absolutely ridiculous. I try to explain that we simply shouted, “Car, car c-a-r, stick your head in a jelly jar,” any time a motor vehicle was seen heading our way. This nonsensical colloquial phrase kept us out of the ER.
On any given day, our streets were filled with kids playing hockey, wiffle ball, frisbee or one of my all-time favorites: run the man down. As we grew older, we joined community and school teams. Summer never passed without bleachers being filled with friends and family, cheering on local baseball stars (of whom my brother was one).
It’s what America, and specifically, Pittsburgh, is all about. That’s the good in sports. Kids get exercise, parents get cheap date nights, and coaches help form young minds toward strong work ethics, integrity, teamwork, sportsman-like conduct and perseverance. When we were learning our chosen sports, we were learning about life.
Many kids go on to play sports in college. That seems to be where things start going from good to bad. It’s a whole new ballgame (No pun intended, but who doesn’t love a good pun?) especially if an athlete secures a spot on a Division II team. There’s a lot of pressure to perform, in fact, not only perform, but consistently perform at top levels. Between the pressure to succeed on the field or court or wherever a chosen sport is played, to trying to make the academic grade, as well as all the other temptations that typically surface as college life unfolds, for many athletes, it’s no longer about having fun, developing a new skill and hanging out with friends and family; it’s about doing whatever needs doing (often times, even if that means taking illegal drugs) to perform at the highest possible level. We read about coaches paying off athletes or covering up a particular player’s wrongdoing to avoid losing a star player to the criminal justice system. That’s the bad.
For the few who earn their degrees and make their ways into professional sports; that’s when it often gets ugly. Nowadays, you’d be hardpressed to peruse online news without coming across, one, 10 or more stories about this, that, or the other athlete (or coach) who has been arrested for violent crime, stripped of an award for illegal drug use, cheating in championships, or turning the sports arena into a political forum to stage protests. In the past decade or so, approximately 600 (or more) NFL players have been arrested on serious criminal charges, including rape and murder.
I’m not sure where the fine line is where sports go from being innocent and enjoyable to something that looks a lot like a thug fest. It begs the question as to why any parent would want his or her child to grow up to be a professional athlete. (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there are professional quarterbacks making more than $20 million a year.)
There are great athletes out there, many of whom are good and decent people. It’s just too bad a little more of the good that is often found in small neighborhoods and community school programs can’t make its way through the ranks to restore the face of sports in America, so kids can look up to athlete mentors and family nights at the ballpark can include every person standing to honor the American flag, and a glimpse at a team roster will not involve mugshots taken at the local jail.
Writer Bio: Judy Dudich
Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.