The Feb. 23 issue of SI struck me as an especially important one. HenryGrunwald's essay, American Renewal, and John Underwood's brilliant admonitionand declaration of hope, A Game Plan for America, are reflections ofenlightened sports journalism at its best. They will be required reading forall of my students preparing to coach and teach. But the audience should belarger still. Sports fans, television executives, school officials and thegreater army of parents and youngsters all should memorize Underwood's sportslesson: "Competition can't serve a society if it's antisocial. Winning atany cost and true sportsmanship are incompatible." They are shibboleths, tobe sure, but we all have come perilously close to forgetting them.
Professor of Physical Education and Sports Historian
The Pennsylvania State University
State College, Pa.
I have long thought that losing can be as powerful a teaching tool as winningcan. As John Underwood indicates, winning has become all-important in oursociety. I believe that this emphasis is misplaced. Rather, it is in theacceptance of a loss and in the lessons to be learned from losing thatcharacter building often occurs. Life deals us many cruel and seemingly unfairblows. Facing up to—and overcoming—losses on the athletic field may not totallyprepare us for life's hardships, but they often instill in us importantqualities such as humility and integrity. These lofty values provide us withthe ability to pick ourselves up after we have been knocked down. They alsohelp us to build a positive self-image, gain self-confidence and, consequently,contribute to society.
By instructingtoday's young athletes in how to lose properly, as well as in how to wingraciously, our nation's coaches will accomplish their greatest task: theformation of mature, responsible individuals able to function together in thisworld.
East Lansing, Mich.
Whether we like it or not there can be only a few champions, but as long as wehold true to the ideals put forth by John Underwood there need not be any reallosers.
LORIN M. BURTE
March 9, 1981
Thanks to John Underwood for telling it like it is. It was the frustration oftrying to persuade others of the virtues of this type of philosophy thatrecently made me resign my position as director of recreation and parks in DelNorte County, Calif. My conviction that there are values to be derived fromsports was implanted by coaches who cared and who gave their time to all whowere interested. I believe that I am the product of my athletic experiences,and I am thankful that, though I was never a star, I was included in my schoolsports programs. I recently reviewed my yearbooks from Oakland Technical Highand came across pictures of such outstanding athletes as John Brodie, CurtisRood, Proverb Jacobs, Pervis Atkins and Ronald Dellums, now a U.S. Congressman.I offer my thanks to those special coaches who developed these well-knownpeople and still had time for me.
The ball is inthe court of today's coaches of young athletes. What are they going to do withit?
Congratulations to John Underwood and SI for presenting a lucid and intelligent"game plan." A responsible approach to sports that stressesparticipation, fair play and an athlete's commitment to his best effort is nota call for mediocrity. Excellence will always shine through, and we will stillbe treated to unbelievable and thrilling performances by those few athletes whohave the skill, coaching and determination to test the bounds of theirabilities.
As a father of three sons who participate in sports, as a fledgling manager ofa boys' baseball team and coach of a youth football team, and as vice-presidentof a construction company, I have found in John Underwood's article lessons tobe learned for each of these endeavors.
JOHN C. MASCARO
It strikes me as odd that in the same issue in which you spoke of the need todiscourage young athletes from having unrealistic dreams of making it to thepros and also of the dangers for youngsters of specialization in sports youwould feature on the cover a 17-year-old hockey phenomenon who began hisrelentless push for glory when he was eight. It seems to me you are feeding thefires of short-term pleasure and long-term pain. If you are serious aboutAmerican Renewal, I suggest an editorial policy review.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
I find it sickeningly arrogant that you publish a fine article like A Game Planfor America and then proceed to print in FACES IN THE CROWD the exploits of ayoung soccer player who scored 12 goals in a 20-1 "victory." It'slittle things like this that perpetuate the attitudes you ask us to reconsider.In the future, please use your forum to bring us truly valuable lessons in goodsportsmanship and competition.
If education beyond a certain point is to be a privilege rather than a right,we should also seek a return to the genuine student-athlete in college sports.College sports should be for college students. A minor-league system should bethe primary training ground for the would-be professional athlete.
Essex Junction, Vt.
While I agree with your proposals that the win-at-all-costs attitude and thespecialization of young athletes is detrimental to sports, your emphasis onathletes turned high-salaried businessmen is also not realistic. Theimplication seems to be that even though one might not become a professionalathlete, athletics will make one a successful astronaut, president of a bank,etc. Why were there no quotes from the football player who is now a factoryworker? Just as most high school athletes will never become professionalathletes, neither will most of them become the next Plato, Dr. Spock, BillBradley or John McGillicuddy. However, athletics can help one succeed in theaverage areas of life. This point seems to have been neglected.
I subscribe to a sports magazine, not a sounding board for some pompous ass ofan editor. Please confine this stuff to TIME and fill SI with illustratedsports.
FRED D. DENNERLINE
Lighthouse Point, Fla.
Address editorial mail to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time& Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York, 10020.