Sports and society - There are too many distractions these days

April 24, 2005|by DON TAPLEY

I can remember summer mornings, when I was 11 or 12 years old, that were spent going around the neighborhood finding buddies to play baseball at Lincolnshire Elementary School.

We could easily come up with 14 or more players and would spend the entire day playing pick-up games. We could also play pick-up basketball games with one or two teams waiting to play the winners, or put together a football team representing the Halfway area that would play one from the Oak Ridge area.

Do you see things like this happening today? In my opinion, no, and this is carrying on to the high school level and beyond. There are plenty of reasons this is happening in today's society.

Our society has turned into an instant gratification/information NOW society, not only with adults, but also with kids. If you turn on CNN or ESPN, not only do you get the news, but you also get a continuous ticker that runs on the screen with even more news. This philosophy of having to know everything right now has been passed down to our kids and has taken many of them away from participating in sports.


These kids are now spending time on the Internet. How many kids are explaining text messaging to their parents? How many know more about instant messaging than adults do? These kids are spending hours on computers talking to a handful of friends all at the same time. They have been pulled into the instant gratification world of today. You can also throw the cell phones, Blackberry's and digital cameras into the mix. All of this new technology is giving them different options for their time instead of playing sports.

Now, let's throw in some more advances in technology. Have you thought about how many channels are available on cable TV or these dish networks? Cooking channels, music channels, travel channels, religious channels, movie channels, animal channels and reality shows, and on and on and on. And what about the huge impact the poker shows have made on youngsters today? They watch it on TV, strive to learn it and be like the players they see. All these things have given the youngsters more things to do besides play sports.

This is also true of the fans of these youngsters. I remember playing football in the early 1980s for Williamsport High (and we were not very good) and playing in front of huge crowds regularly. Our basketball games were played in front of full gyms also. When does that happen anymore besides the occasional North-South matchup? It doesn't happen because not only are the kids not playing as much as they used to, but spectators are also not watching like they used to. They are also doing other things that are available, just like the kids.

I know we had the Atari system for computer games in the '70s, but that in no way compares to the PlayStation, Xbox, GameCubes, iPods and Internet games that are available today. These computer games, as well as things like ESPN's X Games (extreme sports), gravitate kids toward other sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding, free-style bikes, etc.

Another hurdle kids must clear to play sports is the expense of playing them. I know when I played in the early '80s, we did not have to pay a fee to play. I believe these high school athletes are paying $55 per sport this year. My son plays Little League baseball and I know there is a fee to play that sport, and I'm sure there is one to play soccer or junior basketball. With some families, I'm sure this fee is insurmountable and prevents some kids from playing.

With all that said, I believe I have left out one of the biggest reasons that some kids are no longer playing the so-called three big sports of football, basketball and baseball. This distraction goes by the name of Tiger Woods. Golf definitely wasn't as popular before Tiger came along, and now some of the best athletes are playing golf because Tiger has made it cool (he just chipped in on No. 16 at the Masters as I am working on this article). How many young kids have mouthed the words "I am Tiger Woods" in the last 10 years or so?

The bottom line is, young athletes today aren't as dedicated or committed to their sports as players years ago. To be good at sports takes great effort, and in my opinion society has made things too easy for youngsters today.

To get good at sports takes sweat, time and dedication, and fewer kids are putting forth this effort. There are just too many things to take up their time.

Kids, please prove me wrong!

"A Voice From The Crowd" is a weekly feature in The Herald-Mail which gives sports fans an opportunity to be a sports columnist. This week's guest columnist, Don Tapley, is a resident of Hagerstown. Comments on his column can be sent to

If you are interested in becoming a contributor to this column, e-mail Sports Editor Mark Keller at

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