February 10, 2009
Dear Mr. Obama - Help our Kids Play Part I by Tom Farrey
Dear Mr. Obama: Help our kids play By Tom Farrey
Barack Obama has the chance to leave a lasting sports impression on the nation's kids.
Dear Mr. President: Every 50 years or so since the rise of the U.S. as an industrial power, someone with your impending job title takes a hard look at the athletic activity of children. He finds neglect and opportunity.He takes action. He leaves the nation — and, ultimately, the sports nation — in a better place. Just over a century ago, it was Teddy Roosevelt. Ascending to the presidency at a time when America was about to make its play as leader of the free world, he didn't like what he saw happening with teenage boys. Roosevelt grew up an asthmatic, a sickly boy from polluted New York who made his body strong by embracing a life of vigorous exercise. He wrestled and lifted weights, and he boxed even after moving into the White House. He worried that the comforts of urban life had rendered middle- and upper-class boys soft and effeminate, raised, as many of them were, by their mothers. They hardly seemed fit, the way he saw it, to take over the businesses that their more manly fathers were hard at work creating. At the same time, the nation needed dependable laborers to pave the expansion into new markets. Sports and team sports specifically, became seen as a way to indoctrinate immigrant boys into the ways of American capitalism. "Only aggressive sports can create the brawn, the spirit, the self-confidence, and quickness of men essential for the existence of a strong nation," Roosevelt roared.
Theodore Roosevelt tried to use sports to toughen up the youth of America.
Stirred, TR's contemporaries introduced organized sports to school systems in Gotham and other large cities. And they built thousands of playgrounds, green spaces where kids could get off the streets and get into games like baseball.
A half-century later, Dwight Eisenhower was fighting a Cold War that seemed as if it might turn hot on a moment's notice. As a former general, he knew that half of all men who had shown up at draft boards around the nation were considered physically unfit. And a study presented at the American Medical Association had shown that U.S. children were far more out of shape than their European peers. Over there, kids still walked or rode bikes to school and chopped wood for home heating. In the new suburban America, boys and girls were being driven everywhere. Home chores consisted of making their beds. As for school sports, they were focused on interscholastic competition, the province of the certified jock.
An alarmed Ike created in 1956 what ultimately became known as the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which promoted physical education classes as early as first grade. Intramurals exploded, giving the less athletically gifted kid a chance to compete. Also, the groundwork was laid for passage a few years later of a federal program to help fund the construction or renovation of 40,000 parks and recreation centers in just about every county in the country. Today's baby boomers, the first generation to grow up with an exercise ethos, were the chief beneficiaries of these investments.
Check back next week for the continuation of this great article….