Monday, November 5, 2007

True or False: Sports Leagues Should Police its Representatives?

Many youth athletes enjoy sports because they are able to imitate the athletes they see succeed on television. Professional sports utilize this desire to its financial advantage by marketing products towards children, such as those carried in this specialized National Basketball Association store. Accordingly, professional sports leagues have an obligation to make sure that its representatives maintain a positive public image. In this week’s post, I traversed the vast expanse of the blogosphere, looking for other people’s opinions on the role professional sports leagues have in policing its employees. My comments, reproduced below, include my opinions on the specific issues raised by the authors. Also, I provide the author with constructive criticism about what I feel was done well and what was missing in each post. The first blog I commented on, titled The Starting Five, is a joint blog maintained by multiple authors. In “A Cry for Help?” (see first screenshot below) Ron Glover posts about the controversy surrounding the family of Andy Reid, coach of the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League. In Newsvine, a blogger by the user name Mydree also writes about the NFL’s watchdog role and the Reid family drama in his post “Andy Reid, Michael Vick and a Double Standard in the NFL” (see second screenshot below).

Comment:

Dear Mr. Glover,

Thanks for writing this intriguing and informative post. I agree that Andy Reid needs time away from the job in order to deal with his family issues that have surfaced recently. I cannot argue against your belief that the NFL’s lack of disciplinary action against Reid is hypocritical and wrong. However, there are a couple aspects of your post with which I disagree. For example, you state that this issue represents the hypocrisy and racism of the NFL because, there is a, “double-standard securely in place.” While I agree about the overall issue of unequal punishments in the NFL, I view the causes differently. One problem I have with your argument is that, as you say, Coach Reid “has not been implicated in any wrongdoing,” as it is his children who are in legal trouble. Therefore, it is unfair to compare Coach Reid to Michael Vick because Vick is accused of breaking the law, and Reid is not. Also, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent punishment of New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, while ineffective in my opinion, shows that Goodell is not afraid of penalizing administrators or non-African-Americans. Accordingly, I think the issue has more to do with sporting leagues not taking a strong enough stand against its coaches, instead of being a race issue. Another issue to consider is that the NFL has an obligation to youth athletes and fans to ensure that its representatives behave appropriately in the public eye. To do so, I think the NFL needs to establish a fair system for penalizing its representatives equally. I think the NFL is sending children the wrong message by not forcing Coach Reid to take a leave of absence to resolve his family problems. It seems the NFL is condoning associating oneself with illegal behaviors by not addressing the Reid situation. Regarding your post as a whole, I feel that by providing a few links within the body of your post, your argument could be much stronger. After searching further on this site, I realize that most posts do not contain links, but I believe this post would have benefitted from using them. For example, your article has a lot of quotations, but I have no idea from where they were taken. Also, your first bullet point states, “Reid has had full knowledge of his sons’ drug activity for sometime now.” This statement would be more convincing if you link to an article that explained what evidence exists to prove what Reid knew and when he knew it. Finally, while searching the internet the other day, I read an interesting comment on the Reid case at another blog (http://mydree.newsvine.com/_news/2007/11/02/1068917-andy-reid-michael-vick-and-a-double-standard-in-the-nfl - comment #2 by Adam Hobson). I do not agree with this statement, but just to play devil’s advocate: “does any coach really have all that much time to spend as a proper husband or father?” Just a thought to ponder.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

-mhs, http://lawandsports.blogspot.com

Comment:

Dear Mydree,

Thanks for writing this interesting post. I think you posted on an important issue that warrants further public discussion, and I believe your frustrations are appropriate. I agree with the statement that the NFL cannot be a “quality organization” when it punishes players differently than it punishes its coaches. However, I disagree with you on a few points. For example, you argue that since Michael Vick was punished by the NFL, than the NFL should penalize Coach Reid should as well. I do not agree because Michael Vick is directly accused of violating the law, while Coach Reid is not in trouble himself, but rather his sons are. Later, you say that “coaches and executives (Reid is both) in the NFL should be held to a higher standard than the employees (the players) but it seems they are not.” I disagree, and I wish you had provided more evidence for your argument, because it would be interesting to see how you justify this point. I do not agree with you because I see no reason why players and management should be treated differently. All parties are representatives of the NFL, and just because athletes are the ones playing the game does not mean they should be treated less harshly. I concur with your discussion of the double standard in the Philadelphia Eagles’ organization, but I think the fact that one of Reid’s sons admitted to using steroids is irrelevant, unless there is evidence that his son sold them to or used them with Eagles’ players. Also, I wanted to gauge your thoughts on another aspect of what being a “quality organization” means. I feel that the NFL has an obligation to penalize Coach Reid harshly because of the fact that many of the league’s representatives (coaches, players, and others) serve as role models to children. I think the suspensions that Commissioner Roger Goodell has given to players like Adam “Pac-Man” Jones have sent a positive message to youth athletes and fans, but I think his inaction on the issue surrounding the Reid family sends a worse negative message – that as you did not do anything wrong, then it does not matter what people do around you. Personally, I am advocating that the NFL force Coach Reid to take another leave of absence (he took one during the off-season) for the rest of the season to settle his family matters. I do not think Coach Reid deserves to get fired, but since coaching in the NFL is a time-consuming job, and the macho nature of many NFLers does not permit them to make allowances for family emergencies, the NFL needs to demand that Coach Reid step away from football.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

-mhs, http://lawandsports.blogspot.com

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sports Media: Reporting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In the early twentieth century, media coverage of professional sports was substantially different than what it is today. New technologies such as the television and the internet have altered the way sports are presented to the global community. For example, the media has developed new means of providing stats, gossip, and other sports-related news. While in the past, the newspaper and the radio were the main sources of sports information, fans today have more resources available, such as twenty-four hour sports television channels (like ESPNEWS) and sports blogs (like Chris' Sports Blog). However, the increased access to athletes and other prominent figures in sports has been problematic because there has been an increase in inappropriate behavior in the media by those individuals. An example of the negative effects of the new structure of sports journalism is the recent turmoil in Los Angeles over Kobe Bryant (seen with his daughter in the image to the right), as described in a recent ESPN.com article. Bryant’s time as a Laker has had its ups and downs; since the franchise traded Shaquille O’Neal, the team has not won a championship, and Bryant himself has struggled, personally and professionally. In the wake of this history, Los Angeles Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson publicly questioned Bryant’s commitment to the team, and Bryant felt obligated to respond to the personal attacks on his work ethic. Luckily, all parties involved in the Bryant saga remained level-headed, and the comments did not lead to a physical confrontation or other improper actions.

Another problem with the increased presence of sports coverage in the media is that there have been many instances of athletes making crude statements to the media that have no social value. For example, John Rocker’s legacy has nothing to do with his pitching career, but rather focuses on racist statements he made in a 1999 interview with Jeff Pearlman in Sports Illustrated. Rocker’s outlandish opinions included a diatribe on New York Mets' fans: ''‘I talked about what degenerates they were, and they proved me right. Just by saying something, I could make them mad enough to go home and slap their moms.’" Another example of professional athletes wasting time venting private business in the media comes from a recent Los Angeles Times article by Sam Farmer, in which he discusses how National Football League athletes Adalius Thomas and Ray Lewis have been trading insults back and forth in the media, serving no other purpose beyond providing fodder for the media to discuss. These types of statements pose a problem for our society because these athletes, role models for many children worldwide, are using their fame to air their private business publicly. If a person chooses to live his life in the public domain, he has to accept all of the responsibilities that come with being a prominent public figure. For an athlete, one of those responsibilities is to behave appropriately and not ignore their duty as a role model.

In order to address this problem, there are two critical groups that need to respond. Firstly, adults need to step up and state that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. While the media has the obligation to report the news, adults have the right to state that they will not support franchises that allow their athletes and coaches to air their grievances through the media. Adults need to become proactive in protecting those who cannot defend themselves – the children – by refusing to purchase tickets to sporting events and sports merchandise and memorabilia until the sports industry enforces proper social standards. Additionally, professional athletes need to accept the importance of their function as role models: children who look up to them. It is unacceptable for professional athletes to follow the example of National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Charles Barkley (see the image to the left), who refuted the notion of athletes as role models. While parents and teachers do have a more hands-on role in child development, professional athletes need to accept all the responsibilities that come with earning a living playing sports. Therefore, professional athletes must recognize the repercussions of their words and their actions, and regulate how they behave in a public forum.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sports Gambling: A Risky Business

American sports face a variety of problems, including illegal drug use and the spread of infectious diseases. Although not discussed as often as necessary, the sporting world has another significant issue - gambling. While the legality of how a person places a bet is often questionable, the more important issue is the act of betting. In August 2007, HR.com cited a passage from the California Employment Law Letter containing alarming evidence, such as the statistic that over fifty-percent of employees participate in football pools for the regular season and the Super Bowl. Gambling’s dramatic effects in the workplace is supported by a 2005 CNNMoney.com article that noted a study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. The study concluded that interest in the NCAA’s March Madness (see an example of a bracket used for gambling in the image to the left) would cost employers almost $900 million, over $100 million more than the prior year. Earlier this year, Greg Levine of CNBC.com noted another study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which discovered that distractions due to the 2007 Super Bowl would cost employers about $800 million. Clearly, the fact that these two sporting events could cost employers almost $2 billion in productivity shows that gambling is a significant problem in the United States. Gambling’s negative financial impact is not limited to employers only, as Mark Lange of the Christian Science Monitor noted last May that Americans lost $84 billion gambling in 2006. Lange says that gamblers, “…lost more than they spent on movie tickets, recorded music, spectator sports, video games, and theme parks combined”.

Beyond the financial consequences, adults should feel obligated to forego gambling because of its addictive and reckless nature. These types of actions set a poor example for children, and research has shown that children will imitate the actions of the adults in their lives. Public concern with gambling needs to address the potential negative impact gambling adults can have on children, as gambling is not a social woe affecting only adults. Not only does gambling make children associate negative attributes to sports, such as cheating, it also harms children psychologically and physically. The National Council on Problem Gambling discusses some of the various ways minors are exposed to gambling; thus, adults must be aware that a single wager can have an impact on a child. Adults should eliminate gambling from their lives because the potential financial reward for gambling does not outweigh the likelihood of significant monetary loss. Another reason adults should not gamble is because children will learn to emulate the dangerous behavior. A surprising example of this trend comes from the University of Southern California’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Trojan. In a section only available in the print edition, five sports writers do not choose who will win, but rather if a team will cover the spread. One major problem with this situation: not all of the sports writers are old enough to legally gamble in the United States.

Sports gambling may seem to be a minor concern in the context of the many problems in the world today, but the importance of the debate must not be ignored. If gambling truly was a trivial matter, then online gambling companies such as Bookmaker.com would not need to locate their companies in places like Costa Rica, a country which CBSNews.com notes has laws that favor these types of businesses. In the wake of the recent developments like the NBA referee scandal (see the image of troubled referee Tim Donaghy to the left), gambling has developed into an increasingly significant issue in American society. Adult gambling can affect children in various ways; gambling can harm children physically, as this WBEN.com report shows, where a gambling-addicted parent left his child locked up in the car while he gambled. Gambling can also have significant psychological effects, as gambling is an addictive, risky activity that does impairs the development of important character traits like self-control and moderation. Seeing adults gamble, children learn that dangerous behaviors are acceptable. Fiscal responsibility and a non-addictive personality are important traits necessary for a productive life in our modern-day society. Adults who gamble hindering the ethical and psychological development of their children, and this behavior must change, for no one benefits from their mistakes except the bookies and the casinos.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Drugs in Sports: Understanding and Eliminating Their Presence

Professional sports have a major problem: drug use. From Roy Tarpley to Floyd Landis (seen in the image to the right), many athletes have been accused of using illegal substances. Recently, the media have focused on athletes such as Marion Jones and the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Despite the fact that drug testing procedures have improved, with the aim of keeping sports clean, testing has been unable to maintain pace with drug creation and usage. To eliminate drug use, the sporting world needs a new generation of athletes with an improved set of morals. The future athletes must have a complete understanding of the power and effects of using performance-enhancing drugs, instead of only knowing what the media says about these substances, both positive and negative. After the future athletes are educated about the consequences of illegal supplements, they must live up to their obligations as heroes to children. This duty is important because role models can have a significant impact on youth, and can instill the desire in a child to live a substance-free life.

Young adults need to know more about substances that are often championed for their performance-enhancement potential, such as steroids and human growth hormone. Steroids are popular because they, “promote muscle growth and the development of male sexual characteristics,” according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. However, steroids are designed specifically for certain medical conditions; their use without a valid prescription is illegal. Human growth hormone (or HGH), the New York Times reports, “can be prescribed only to treat illnesses for which it has been specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” the only exception being people who are unable to produce a significant amount of HGH. Many believe that steroids and human growth hormone are useful supplements because of their ability to increase muscle mass and quicken recovery from injury. Despite potential benefits, these substances can cause significant bodily harm. Steroids can engender, among many side effects, “liver tumors and cancer,” while human growth hormone’s side effects include “alter[ing] the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, leading to blood-sugar imbalances and, in some cases, diabetes,” wrote Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times. Due to their dangerous nature, the drugs must only be taken under doctor’s supervision for medical need, not for athletic success.

Today’s professional athletes have demonstrated a lack of concern for their bodies and for their obligations as role models in the quest for athletic success. Therefore, it appears that the only way for sports to rebuild its disgraced reputation is for a new generation of athletes to have a renewed sense of morality. Though it is absurd to say that an athlete should not be able to utilize medical advances to his or her benefit, for athletes to take medicine without conclusive scientific support is irresponsible and reckless (see examples of problems with steroids in the image to the left). Parents and role models ought to encourage young people not to take steroids and human growth hormone because drugs have not been conclusively proven to be worth the health risks. However, simply stating that using illegal drugs is wrong is unlikely to sway a young athlete facing intense pressure to succeed. Explaining to that child, on the other hand, that he may “experience shrinking of the testicles,” or that she might develop, “male-pattern baldness” provides a more powerful example than the stereotypical: “Because I said so.” Role models would be well advised to initiate discussions about the negatives of illegal drugs because modern-day athletes, whom many children admire, are often setting a poor example, and unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes.

It is possible that the sporting world has not eliminated performance-enhancing drug use by players because of the significant profits being made in sports, due to ticket prices, jersey sales and other amenities. Another possibility is that progress is coming, albeit slowly, because change takes time to develop in large institutions common in the sporting industry. No matter what the reason, in order to create an even playing field, all must abide by the rules. Since a large number of sports figures seem not to care about those rules, it is up to the athletes of tomorrow to transform the sporting world. Competitors in future generations must build upon the mistakes of the past and present, using the knowledge gained to create a drug-free and healthier future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Booing: How the Behavior of Sports Fans Impacts Children

To many people, sports and booing are as connected as McDonald’s and its famous Golden Arches logo—it would be inconceivable to imagine one without the other. While sports fans often boo, sometimes they have positive sentiments to offer athletes. For example, on BroncosFreak, a popular website for the Denver Broncos, the team’s fans showed deep concern for Kevin Everett, a Buffalo Bills tight end severely injured in a recent game. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the sporting world is filled with instances of fans booing inappropriately. A report by the Associated Press shows that even a life-threatening injury did not prevent Philadelphia Eagles’ supporters from making derogatory comments towards Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Michael Irvin, after he suffered a neck injury during a NFL 1999 game (see the image to the right). ESPN writer Bill Simmons takes a humorous approach to the issue of derisive fan noise in sports in his latest article. Although Simmons’ article provides an interesting viewpoint on the relationship between sports and booing, the column ignores the consequences of the disparaging remarks: the negative behaviors children are learning by listening to profane words and watching the rude actions of adults in their lives. As Melissa Balmain of Parenting magazine writes, children will often mimic the actions of their parents; accordingly, if role models behave rudely, then children will believe that type of behavior is socially acceptable. Federal law does allow people the right to speak as they please, but that does not mean that we should condone inappropriate behavior at sporting events. If there is no popular movement to address this problem, then the federal government should involve itself, as it has in other aspects of sports, like steroids, in order to provide a safe haven for all participants and fans.

Sports have changed significantly over the last few decades, with such factors as free agency and medical advances (both legal and illegal) creating stronger athletes and decreasing team loyalty, among many other developments. As Chris Jenkins of USA Today reported in 2005, even players agree that baseball has been impacted by steroids. Accordingly, some fans feel they have not just the right, but the duty, to boo. Oftentimes, fans feel justified to express their displeasure at the rising prices to attend a game, such as $8 for parking and up to $125 for a single ticket to a game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. According to Simmons, it is as if many fans feel that part of the ticket price includes the right to boo whomever and whenever they please. While the First Amendment certainly protects the right to freedom of speech, people should nonetheless exercise good judgment before speaking. Michael Bradley, in an editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, justifies unconstructive fan noise in Philadelphia by saying that, “Philadelphians have suffered more disappointment and heartache than citizens of any other city.” Bradley also argues that booing is how people “do it” in Philadelphia. He could not be more incorrect; this type of behavior is inappropriate.

Simmons, Bradley, and other writers have ignored the broader significance of booing in professional sports. Countless numbers of families bond over tailgating and then going to a football game, or over attending a basketball game on a special family pack, such as the one offered by the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. It would be na├»ve to dismiss the impact of adults’ behavior on children at these games. While it would also be inappropriate to limit the abilities of fans’ to express their opinions, is it truly necessary, for instance, to imbibe significant amounts of alcoholic beverages and use cuss words to address athletes? Or to throw items onto the playing surface? The answer to both of those questions, and all other examples of scathing remarks by fans, is no. Sometimes a child mimics an adult’s behavior in an endearing way, as this father suggests; other times, as former Kansas City Royals coach Tom Gamboa can attest, a parent can lead a child to disastrous results. With regards to booing, the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” will simply not suffice. A change of culture in the American sporting world is needed in order to present a more fitting example for the nation’s children, and all it takes is paying more attention to the appropriateness of one’s language and behavior. Although freedom of speech is an important right, children also have the right not to be bombarded with crude behavior in a public setting. American sports fans just need to ask themselves what is more important: making negative, hurtful remarks at sporting events (as seen in the image above) or raising their children properly? Maybe then the sporting world will take notice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cheating in Professional Sports: The Obligation of Athletes as Role Models

Youth sports, at its core, should be plain, simple fun. One would hope that children, unburdened by the responsibilities of adulthood, could enjoy the simplicity of sports without the pressures and the training typically associated with higher-level athletics. This tranquility, however, is not realistic. The issue that often mars youth sports, especially during the often un-officiated period of recess, is cheating. In school, children learn that cheating is bad, and are quick to point out what they perceive as cheating in competitive sports. However, professional athletes, who due to their skill and global visibility serve as role models to many children, have not been setting a good example and playing by the rules. In this week’s post, I traveled the world of internet blogging, and came across two blog posts that address different instances of cheating in professional sports. In my comments (reproduced below) on each post, I discuss the issues presented by the respective authors, as well as address significant topics that the authors did not emphasize: how American thirst for skilled athletes and record-breaking statistics has produced a dishonest sports culture, and how that culture is connected to and affects youth sports. In “Steroid Nation,” Dr. Gary R. Gaffney of the University of Iowa recently posted (see screenshot in first comment section) on the turmoil revolving around pro baseball athlete Rick Ankiel and his alleged HGH use. Jeffrey Standen, professor of law at Willamette University, wrote (see screenshot in second comment section) about New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick being mislabeled as a cheater by the public at his blog “The Sports Law Professor” .

Comment:

Dear Dr. Gaffney,

I think you wrote a very interesting and informative post on a controversial subject. Playing devil’s advocate, however, Rick Ankiel presents an intriguing case. In the wake of his arm troubles in the 2000 Major League Baseball playoffs, Ankiel struggled significantly attempting to regain his professional form. Since clips of Ankiel’s wildness have been shown so many times on television, while countless baseball analysts have given his or her opinions on his problems, I feel that America’s craze for statistical success in sports almost forced Ankiel to take HGH. If Ankiel had been unable to return to the majors, he would likely have been labeled a baseball failure, an undeserved tag that would permanently affect any dedicated lifelong athlete. Additionally, the same fans that encouraged this behavior (doing whatever it takes to succeed) in pro sports are likely parents and/or coaches of youth athletes. Therefore, I feel that it is extremely important that all parties (athletes, organizations and fans) hold themselves to a higher moral standard. Each of those groups shares part of the blame for this dilemma, and for the sake of youth sports participants everywhere, something needs to be done to rectify the problem.

I do not mean to negate the significance of the fact that each athlete, technically speaking, makes an individual choice about what to put in his or her body. However, in your post, I feel that your argument focuses solely on each individual player’s decisions, and that the respective leagues are the impartial bystanders negatively affected by the “perpetrators.” I feel strongly that both the players and the leagues to which they belong are equally responsible must do more to educate both themselves and the public to the dangers of illegal substances.

To demonstrate my point, I analyzed your reference of Rodney Harrison being given a, “four-game suspension for receiving HGH.” In my opinion this consequence seems like a minor penalty for such an important rule violation. Is it not the obligation of sports leagues and its athletes to play by the rules? I think most people would agree that athletes are role models to children worldwide; therefore, as role models, athletes should feel compelled to live up to that level of responsibility. Accordingly, I feel that these athletes must be held accountable for breaking the law, and should not be given inconsequential penalties for significant crimes.

Thanks for reading.

mhs – http://lawandsports.blogspot.com

Comment:

Dear Professor Standen,

I think you presented an interesting perspective on this whole debacle. I am intrigued by the arguments you presented in your post, and I feel that they present an important viewpoint on this event. However, I feel that there are some important details that your argument does not take into consideration.

Firstly, I find that your comparison of video-taping signs and mimicking play-calling signals to be inappropriate. While I would agree that the Ravens’ actions were both unsportsmanlike and against NFL policy, I believe that one cannot state that both actions are equal instances of cheating. In the Patriots’ situation, there was tangible evidence of cheating (the actual videotapes, as well as the fact that the cameraman was caught in the act). On the other hand, officials on the field at the Jets vs. Ravens game did not hear the alleged mimicking by the Jets’ players. Therefore, there is no actual proof of “cheating,” beyond the word of the Ravens’ coach (at least that you reference). Additionally, considering the intense curiosity of the public with regards to the Belichick situation, I believe that it blaming “cheating” for a loss is a convenient excuse for these highly-paid athletic figures. Without concrete evidence to the contrary, how can one state that both actions are of equal stature? I think the NFL has to set an example and show that one cannot rush to judge in these situations.

More importantly, while I can agree that the NFL rulebook is not written clearly, I would argue that the league that claims to be a strong supporter of charities such as the United Way has an obligation to the global community (in the wake of football’s growing popularity) to have a strong moral backbone, just as any league does. While one could argue in “lawyer-speak” for hours, I feel that anyone arguing in support of the Patriots has to realize that their arguments are illegitimate and taking advantage of technicalities. Since the NFL is such a popular organization, the league and its players should feel obligated to show that cheating is unacceptable.

And finally, I strongly believe that the NFL has an obligation to provide an example for children interested in sports, and people in general. I would argue that this concept will be a trademark of the Roger Goodell era, as evidenced by his willingness to suspend players/coaches for violating league policies (even though I wholeheartedly believe there is much more that he could do).

Thanks for reading.

mhs – http://lawandsports.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aluminum vs. Wood Baseball Bats: Social Responsibility Governing Athletics in the Twenty-first Century

Participating in youth sports is an important aspect of development for children in the United States. Engaging in physical activities teaches children important life skills, such as teamwork and responsibility, as well as keeping children physically fit. However, a recent City Council decision in New York dealing with the use of aluminum bats, upheld in United States District Court, has hung an ominous cloud over youth baseball. The choice to ban aluminum bats negatively impacts the youth in the five boroughs of New York City because the ban makes baseball less accessible, costlier, and less enjoyable for its players.

The fact that the 2006 Major League Baseball World Series was the lowest rated since the statistic has been tracked, as well as the decreasing participation in youth baseball, reflects the lack of interest in baseball nationwide. A 2006 news article claimed that about 41 million children were competing in youth sports (such as the children in the image to the right); surprisingly, only one sport mentioned had declined in popularity since 1996: Little League Baseball.

One problem facing youth baseball is that compared to other sports, it is especially difficult to have a spontaneous “pick-up” game. For example, basketball requires only a ball and two circular objects to represent rims to play. Soccer just needs a ball and a few cones. Baseball is strikingly different in its need of multiple pieces of equipment and the necessity of several players, as well as a large playing surface.

Another major disadvantage for baseball as a youth sport is the cost. Beyond gloves, pads and cleats, bats are an additional expense. Youth wood bats can range, on average, from $15 to $70, depending on such factors as the store where it was purchased, professional athlete endorsement, and other reasons. Youth aluminum bats are often more expensive, averaging in price from $30 to $250. Despite the price difference, aluminum bats are in fact more cost-effective because wood bats are more likely to crack during use. Thus, in the long run, more money would be spent replacing wood bats (and replacing them) than on aluminum bats.

However, it would be irresponsible to ignore the benefits of wood bats. It is true that the professional leagues in the United States utilize wood bats; therefore, using wood bats in youth leagues would provide a more appropriate setting in which one could judge an individual athlete’s potential for success in professional baseball. Also, wood bats typically have a smaller “sweet spot,” or the best point of contact for which a player can get a good hit. Accordingly, wood bats enable one to better assess an athlete’s “true” ability, and how much his or her baseball statistics were enhanced by the aluminum bat (an analysis of three different types of bats, including a wood composite bat made of multiple materials, can be seen in the image to the left).

Nonetheless, one must focus on the importance of baseball beyond being a farm system for the professional leagues. If aluminum bats have not been conclusively proven to be more dangerous than wood bats, (and they have not), then there should be no problem for youth leagues to utilize them in competition. If aluminum bats allow less talented individuals to have a little more fun playing baseball because they make it easier to get a hit, then using aluminum bats in certain leagues does not appear to be a bad idea. It should be the decision of the individual league’s governing body to decide what is most appropriate for its players.

New York City Councilman James S. Oddo, chief sponsor of the legislation banning the aluminum bat, was quoted as saying, “‘I understand they want one single piece of overwhelming scholarship to prove my case, but I don't need that….’” The councilman, while having the best of intentions, seems to be jumping to a conclusion that is lacking concrete evidence. Relying on anecdotal evidence to guide legislation is not always an effective method of governing, especially in this situation where the anecdotal evidence is at times contradictory.

The issue is becoming increasingly political; for example, aluminum bat companies are hiring lawyers and lobbying the government. The number one priority needs to be the children. While both sides claim to have the participants’ safety as their number one priority, our government appears to be acting like overprotective parents who do not trust their children to make decisions. The New York City Council made a definite mistake in eliminating the use of aluminum bats in high schools, the aftereffects of which will be felt by baseball players in those schools for years…that is if the programs can survive the financial bind which they have been placed in by the government.

 
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