Fixing the ‘brokenness’ of sports

The impact of sports on the American culture stretches from the NFL, Major League Baseball and NBA all the way down to pee-wee football, Little League baseball and church basketball and softball leagues.

But sports also reflects the culture. Newspaper headlines and TV news often report the criminal behavior of professional and college athletes, angry parents assaulting umpires, angry coaches berating their young players and fans rioting after controversial games.

That brokenness of sports and the culture — and what to do about it — was the subject for the kickoff meeting of the Baton Rouge Sports Initiative held Aug. 21 at Istrouma Baptist Church. The church, which has an ambitious, year-round sports program headed by coach M.L. Woodruff, is leading the program.

“The purpose of this initiative is to find out what we can do together that we can’t do by ourselves,” Woodruff said to two dozen administrators and coaches from 16 sports organizations and several churches.

“Our heart is for the community of Baton Rouge,” Woodruff said. “Sports is the bridge that brings us all together but the Gospel is the thing that can transform and unify the community.”

“The Brokenness of Sports — A Call for Redemption,” featured Bob Schindler, executive director of Church Sports Outreach of Huntersville, North Carolina. His ministry, founded in 1996, provides resources, training and connections to hundreds of faith-based sports ministry leaders.

“Sports has always been broken but the breadth and the depth of it across all sports at all levels is unprecedented,” Schindler said after showing a video montage of sports-related violence. As part of his ministry he investigates and catalogs what he calls “the brokenness of sports.”

“Fifty percent of the kids in youth sports say they have been berated verbally by a coach and 20 percent say they have been physically assaulted by someone,” Schindler said. He cited the New Orleans Saints “bounty-gate” and Lance Armstrong’s doping and cover-up as examples of the brokenness in professional sports.

“We’ve just kind of accepted parents yelling at their kids,” Schindler said. “Sixty to 70 percent of kids quit organized sports by the age of 14 because they say it just isn’t fun anymore. That should bother every one of us.”

Some solutions can range from posting rules of behavior for adults around youth sports venues and codes of conduct for coaches to changing the overall perspective from “winning at all costs” to “having fun” and “doing your best” no matter the score, Schindler said.

“But more than rules need to be changed. There needs to be a transformation of our hearts,” Schindler said. “The joy of competition is more than just winning. We can keep score, but there also has to be the fun of it to express our God-given abilities and to give glory to (God) the giver.”

Administrators and coaches from SportQuest, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Pitch by Pitch, YMCA, BREC, Crawfish Aquatics, Exerfit, Marucci, Traction Center for Sports Excellence, Zoar Baptist Church and Community Bible Baptist Church attended the Initiative meeting.

Some of the participants related how parents contribute to the brokenness because they are trying to live vicariously through their children while others related how the children are not taught at home to show respect for authority.

Schindler said his goal, and the goal of Woodruff, is to craft ways through this group to change the culture of sports locally that eventually spreads to the rest of the country.

One of those ways to bring the community together, Woodruff said, is an Istrouma Baptist sports program called Operation First Base, a one-day baseball/softball clinic held each winter. The clinics are held at BREC fields in mostly underserved neighborhoods, and basic skills like throwing, catching and hitting are taught by high school and college baseball players.

Josh Landry, executive director of the YMCA, said he appreciated the meeting and is hopeful positive changes can be made in the local sports scene.

“At the YMCA we want to instill Christian values into the sports so its important to have the kids and the parents realize their abilities are from God, and they can reflect his love in what they do,” Landry said.

“We’re worshipping false gods,” said Bill Dailey, of Pitch by Pitch Baseball Academy. “We want our kids to be professional basketball players and football players when in years past parents wanted their kids to be teachers, pastors and policemen.”

Danielle Thomas works with SportQuest, a Christian missions organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and manages a Baton Rouge chapter working in the Gardere neighborhood where more than 200 children participated in a week-long, sports camp this summer.

“I’m excited for the partnerships we’ve formed here,” Thomas said. “I’ve seen the brokenness in the Gardere neighborhood. We believe sports is a tool to be used to share the Gospel, the story of Jesus Christ. That is where true healing will begin and we will see lasting change.”

Joseph Lands, a lifelong athlete who oversees the men’s ministry and youth/sports programs at Community Bible Baptist Church, said he attended the meeting to network with the other groups.

“We need to build more character by using sports as a vehicle among the kids and in our congregation and in our neighborhoods,” Lands said. “Everything we do has got to start with God. We must build character in them and they must see it in us. If they can’t see God in us, we can’t expect to see God in them.”