AMERICAN RENEWAL (CONT.)
I have just finished reading John Underwood's article A Game Plan for America (Feb. 23), along with the editorial comment by Henry Grunwald, and it is the best material I have ever read on the subject of team play and sports.
Having two children engaged in several youth league activities, I am keenly aware of the intense pressure that is put on them to win at any cost. Sometimes I feel myself getting caught up in the desire to see my children's team win, and I begin to lose sight of the real reason they are playing.
It is my opinion that competitive sports have been corrupted—young people are being taught that winning is all that is important and that you play for yourself, not your team. Underwood reminds us that we have to reevaluate our priorities and get sports back into the proper perspective.
It is articles like this one that make SPORTS ILLUSTRATED one of the great magazines of our time.
DAVID W. BONNER
John Underwood's article is so true. We all seem to forget that children first have to learn a sport before they can excel. The youth leagues definitely need to be reoriented.
One thing I would like to see changed is the practice of some baseball managers of taking their teams out for ice cream after big wins. My father was criticized when he told his team that he would treat after particular games regardless of whether we won or lost. Our team's record improved vastly after he took over, and we played for our own enjoyment rather than the manager's.
I also have a message for every parent of a youth leaguer who has, at one time or another, gotten into a fight with another parent over some aspect of the game: your son's league championship isn't important enough for you to make a jackass out of yourself.
Thanks so much for pointing out the practice in certain Georgia school systems of holding back athletes in the eighth grade to increase their chances of getting college football scholarships. I am in favor of all high school athletics, but when we start keeping back students for athletic purposes we contradict everything our educational system stands for. Coaches who engage in this practice should reexamine their priorities. Parents who support it should think again about the well-being of their children.
High School Teacher
Don't despair because big-time sports programs are win-at-any-cost, elitist ventures. Hearken to the world's best elementary phys ed program ever, flowering at our school. Fifth-grade boys and girls play on coed teams, learning soccer, football, basketball, Softball. etc., and they also do strength and flexibility exercises. Student captains, student scorer-referees and student exercise leaders handle the program. After teaching the rules of the sport, teachers rotate as supervisors. Different games are played each day and everyone gets the same phys ed grade. A love of competition prevails, so skills rapidly improve. Enthusiastic children exult over wins, but there are no prizes or all-star teams. Skills contests are held intermittently, and the school year concludes with a field day at which classes vie for paper ribbons and the championship. Every child competes, and parents are conspicuous by their absence.
The rewards to the students and the teachers are readily apparent to all who are involved. I wonder if older students wouldn't benefit from a phys ed program based on similar ideas.
Warm Springs School
•In addition to being an elementary school teacher, Mrs. Finneran is the mother of Sharon and Michael Finneran, 10-time and three-time national champions in swimming and diving, respectively. Sharon was the first woman to hold world records in three different "strokes"—freestyle, butterfly and individual medley—and Mike represented the U.S. in the '72 Olympics after executing what reputedly is history's only perfect dive during the trials.—ED.
John Underwood's article was a topic of discussion in my high school sports-literature class. My students feel that drug usage and violence, along with a change to a win-at-all-cost philosophy on the part of those in control, have prostituted sports. Financial motivations have subordinated other motives for participation. Taking part for the pure enjoyment of it is disappearing from sports, my students say. Show biz reigns supreme.
The solution? First, as Underwood suggests, de-emphasize professionalism and re-emphasize participation. Second, encourage the public to express its displeasure in none-too-subtle terms whenever it encounters the subversion of ethical behavior. Finally, insist that those in positions of leadership serve as examples of ethical behavior. Eliminating winning as a measure of a coach's success might help to bring this last goal about.
The article was to the point and offered a well-thought-out explanation of the problems that plague sports today. However, I was surprised to read the quote from Indiana Basketball Coach Bobby Knight. In my opinion. Knight represents everything that is wrong with the athletic environment today. His win-at-all-cost mentality and antisocial behavior are condoned simply because he wins! If you condone Knight's actions, then you truly do not believe in the ideas outlined in your article.
MARK J. DESCHAINE
John Underwood quotes sports psychologist Thomas Tutko as saying some coaches "think sports is war." After reading newspapers and magazines and listening to television and radio sports reports, one could easily believe that sportswriters and announcers perceive sports in the same way, as war. Underwood states: "The vernacular of achievement in all areas of our culture is studded with references to athletics." I'd say the vernacular of what I guess is considered to be achievement in sports journalism is studded with references to war: teams run and gun, blitz, bomb; the opponent—often referred to as the enemy—is gunned down, massacred, killed, hammered; two teams engage in a shoot-out; a coach brings in his heavy artillery.
If Bill Colson is correct and sports evolved not from a sort of watered-down war but rather from the Greek desire to "...achieve a sense of harmony and proportion between the exertions of the intellect and the body" and "...the English...concept of character-building," how do sportswriters justify the bellicose language of sports reportage?
There's another "heavy" to add to the list of offenders in the article—the sports reporter. Perhaps he should raise his standards to better serve the lofty purposes of the Greeks and English and the laudable aims for American sport outlined by Underwood.
In his analysis of the decline of sport in America, John Underwood has missed his own point. He laments the perversion of athletic norms and goals but does not recognize that the roots of the corruption of sport lie in the very nature of athletic competition itself. Underwood operates on the unproved and dubious assumption that "competition is, of course, good, even essential for the individual and society."
Inherent in competition is the goal of success, the striving to win. As long as sport is competitive, with winning as its ultimate goal, sport will inevitably become the institution that Underwood bemoans.
If success in our country is based on being on the team and on locker-room camaraderie, can women ever achieve the boardroom?
LINDA J. THOMSON
Kansas City, Mo.
American Renewal, indeed! What your Feb. 23 issue renewed was a long-standing Time, Inc. tradition: the regurgitation of shallow clichès masquerading as thought. The driving force of John Underwood's article is nothing but that most fundamental of American shibboleths that Henry Grunwald uses as the answer to all our problems—"sustained economic growth." To this end, Underwood and his band of bankers and executives would turn sports into a training ground for the smooth functioning of the economic machine. "Teamwork" becomes for them a way of turning out well-adjusted "cogs," to use John McGillicuddy's word.
What needs to be renewed in America is not this kind of indoctrination, but critical reflection on some basic assumptions. For instance, what kind of life do "cogs" lead? Is the so-called Promised Land of American success—i.e., McGillicuddy's Park Avenue office—worth spending your life as one of the balding, paunchy clones shown in your nightmarish lead illustration?
These questions need to be faced up to by all of us. The place for you to start is in your own glass house.
University Park, Pa.
Sports work best when they are an end in and of themselves. When they become a means to an end, then you have problems, often without solutions.
It also has been said that sports do not build character, they reveal it.
COOPER E. TAYLOR JR.
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