This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
I love sports, but I hate so much of what sports have become. Playing sports should be an opportunity, especially for children, to exercise, make friends and, heaven forbid, have fun. As for the pro leagues, they have been and always will be a business first and foremost, but they should also be a sweet escape after a tough day—instead of something that makes you feel used and even dirty about enjoying.
If sports are ever going to be reclaimed, we need to put our John Lennon glasses on and actually start by daring to imagine. We need a new vision of what sports could look like, if they were run on a set of principles that weren’t about vacuuming every last dollar from our pockets.
So imagine a saner sports world—it’s easy if you try.
Imagine expanded recess time and daily physical education in our public schools—two things in short supply across the country—so that kids have the space and freedom to learn to love play, regardless of some grown-up’s judgment about whether they are “any good.”
Imagine a youth sports world that is not professionalized—one built around giving kids a lifelong love of healthy competition and teamwork instead of the ego-fulfillment of adults.
Imagine youth sports teams that aren’t rigidly segregated by gender, so that boys and girls who want to play together can play together—and kids who don’t see themselves as either a “boy” or a “girl” don’t need to feel excluded from what should be adventures in positive socialization. Let sports be something other than the first step toward the alienation that can fester between men and women. And if girls want their own teams, let them not only have access, but also equal fields and equipment.
Imagine a youth sports world that does not feel like a place where you don’t belong if you’re part of the LGBT community. Imagine a young men’s sports world where homophobia and violence against women are completely contrary to the values enforced by the locker room.
Imagine a college sports system without the NCAA! No more would we hear from a multibillion-dollar cartel policing a system of indentured servitude. The fact that the NCAA’s two revenue-producing sports happen to revolve around the talents of young black men speaks volumes. Stop the theft of black wealth through college sports, and instead treat players like the campus employees they are. And if they also want to pursue a degree, that should be encouraged—even highly incentivized. But we would all be better off without such profound hypocrisy and exploitation in our midst.