Sports Lessons

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(HOST) Commentator Brian Porto agrees that we can learn a lot from sports. But lately it seems that not all of it is good.

(PORTO) Recently, newspaper sports pages have featured stories that have caused me to question whether sports, as their enthusiasts insist, teach important life lessons. One story discussed a brawl that occurred between players and fans during a professional basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers. Another revealed that several professional baseball players, including single season home run champ Barry Bonds, admitted using performance-enhancing drugs in recent seasons. These revelations forced me to consider whether sports are all they are cracked up to be as teachers of values.

My reflections have produced three conclusions. First, sports can teach valuable lessons to their participants, but they teach precious little to spectators. Unfortunately, Americans increasingly watch sports instead of playing them, denying themselves the physical and psychological benefits of participation. The more that we sit and watch, the more we feed the commercial sports monster that corrupts colleges and produces professional athletes who will assault fans and use steroids if they think they can get away with it. We also feed ourselves while watching sports, which is one reason why both adult and childhood obesity have reached epidemic proportions in this country.

Second, the greatest benefit to be gained from playing sports is what Ernest Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” If you have ever stood on the free-throw line late in a close game in the opponent’s gym, then you have learned what grace under pressure is. If you have ever sought that last ounce of energy necessary to overtake another runner or skier at the end of a cross-country race, then you have learned what grace under pressure is. You undoubtedly also learned that it is usually the happy result of careful preparation.

Third, we can learn the same lessons that sports teach from playing in a band or an orchestra, acting in theater productions, or arguing in debate tournaments. Each of these activities requires preparation, cooperation and self-discipline, and each one fosters grace under pressure.

There is a message in these conclusions for our schools and communities. We should give musicians, actors, debaters and others engaged in life-changing activities the same enthusiastic support that we have long given to athletes. We should also provide athletic opportunities for all our young people through regular physical education classes and intramural and recreational sports. After all, if music is as good at teaching life lessons as sports are, then music deserves the same kind of support that sports receive. Similarly, if sports teach important life lessons, then they should be available to everyone, not just to varsity athletes.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a freelance writer. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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