Sport Scandals, Sexy Babes & Social Responsibility

As I posted previously, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a host of stimulating conferences and conversations in the past eight weeks related to girls and women in sport. I’m still musing about many things, but here are three I’m ready to share.

1. As a wrote about in my last blog post, the current model of “sport” (i.e., meaning the male model of win at all costs, big business, professionalization) is broken. If you believe this statement to be true and you also believe in a “growing sense of crisis in college sports“, then who is responsible for changing the current model or changing the course of big time, revenue pursuant, entertainment style college sport? Why hasn’t the The Knight Commission, whose mission is to advocate for a “reform agenda that emphasizes academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education” and The Drake Group whose mission is to “is to help faculty and staff defend academic integrity in the face of the burgeoning college sport industry” been more vocal or got more traction lately in the wake of some major scandals?

Relatedly, given the historically abysmal patterns of media coverage for female athletes, who is responsible for creating socially responsible images of college female athletes? (Colleagues Sally Ross at Memphis and Vikki Krane at Bowling Green are thinking & writing about this concept). Shouldn’t athletic departments be held to a higher standard of marketing female athletes? Why does a “sex sells” narrative and images still persist (see image) in college athletics where the purpose is about education, not highlighting the physical appearance or making female athletic bodies into “sexy babe” objects? Doesn’t a university have an obligation and responsibility to ensure the health, well-being, integrity and respect of female athletes, just as it also has an obligation and responsibility to put the well-being of children ahead of potential scandal and shaming high profile men’s programs and their coaches?

2. Head Coach for the WNBA Championship Minnesota Lynx, Cheryl Reeve, stated in her keynote at the Alliance of Women’s Coaches workshop held at Macalester College, that sometimes a team gains, by subtracting players in what she calls “addition by subtraction”. I think this is what college athletics needs…take football and men’s basketball out of D-I and II college athletics altogether and a great deal can be gained. However, despite recent dialogue by NCAA President Mark Emmert that radical reform is needed, yet some argue real reform for  football and men’s basketball is not possible. Think of many of the issues currently facing college athletics administrators and university presidents would go away, be diminished, or never occur if football and men’s basketball were removed from institutions of higher education. The Arms Race, rule violations, academic fraud, eligibility problems, booster and recruitment violations, pay for play, the $2K stipend, discussions of athlete unions and revenue sharing with athletes, athlete exploitation, and cover-ups of egregious coach and player behavior might be reduced. Those sports could be affiliated with a school, but athletes would not be required to attend class, but given the opportunity to earn their degree for free once the player retired from sports or desired to focus on academics. To hear colleague and Professor Allen Sack discuss these issues in depth, click here. I’m not sure college sport can or ever will be truly reformed…

Given that much of my work focuses on the youth level, where I feel I might be able to make a real difference somehow, I have come to believe the problems in college sport are related to problems at the youth sport level.

3. The current youth sport model emulates Big Time College Sport and Pro Sport…specialization, year round training, pay to play, transferring based on playing time and winning, athletes as commodities to help a franchise win, children training away from their families at elite sport academies, kids viewed as “return on investments”, development and experience are downplayed as winning and performance are center stage, team loyalty and playing with friends are sacrificed to play on elite travel teams focused on securing college scholarships, a great deal of money is spent on ensuring the right equipment and experiences, highly specialized training (e.g., strength and conditioning, agility, sport psychology) to increase the likelihood of optimal performance, and the growing number of chronic and acute injuries due to overuse and over training. The youth sport model is never going to change unless college sport is reformed. If athletics were taken out of institutions of higher education and full ride scholarships were not the “end all, be all” goal of athletes and their parents, youth sport would look a LOT different. Youth sport might just start to resemble something better…where athlete development, fun, enjoyment, positive relationships, learning, skill development, and being active and competing are fun in and of itself, rather than being a means to an end. Imagine it.

While reform in college sports may be unlikely, don’t we have a social responsibility to help ensure youth sport retains some semblance of being athlete-centered?

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