Super Bowl

Ralph's Sportcenter

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Ralph Nader wants the nation's newspapers to spend more time covering recreational and participatory sports. "I'd have them cover local leagues, local issues dealing with playgrounds, whether it's softball leagues, tennis, all the things that go on," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week. "Here in Washington, they play these pickup games over by the Washington Monument." His comments follow a letter that he and Shawn McCarthy, director of a sports watchdog group called the League of Fans, sent to the country's 50 largest newspapers, calling for the creation of a daily or weekly Recreational Sports Page.

There's something to be said for this idea. While there's no way to cover informal and amateur sports with the thoroughness papers bring to the NBA or NFL—an impossibility, given how innately open-ended that world is—they're certainly a good and oft-neglected topic. Anyone who doesn't think there's a lot of compelling stories on the local baseball field or basketball court suffers from a severely limited imagination. I'm not sold on the idea of creating a new section for the topic, and I doubt the notion will catch on with editors either. But just putting one full-time sportswriter on the beat would add some welcome texture to any newspaper.

Unfortunately, Nader and McCarthy have a grander agenda. "Marketing-related diseases," they write, "such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and smoking-related illnesses could be reduced by a better informed, active, healthier and more confident citizenry." Such ailments, they write, can be blamed on "television, video games, fast food chains, soft drink and junk food companies, 'fad' diet scams and the boom in advertising for all of the above, some even in our schools." Their new rec-sports section would exist to counterbalance such marketing, by telling people to get healthy instead.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for getting exercise. But I'd rather not open my paper each morning to find someone hectoring me to get into shape. It's one thing for the media to recognize and encourage the world that amateur athletes have organized for themselves. It's quite another to become some sort of P.E. nanny, scolding us to put down the Nintendo and get some fresh air.

Has Ralph Nader ever called for doing something on the simple grounds that it would add to the pleasure and happiness we can find in the world? Or must he always tack on some sort of public-interest justification?

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  1. Friggin’ “do-gooders” need a REAL job. Maybe Nader, et al should start their own sports newspaper, dedicated to local and informal amature sports.

    Geez.

  2. Heaven forbid people take responsibility for their health, instead of blaming “television, video games, fast food chains, soft drink and junk food companies etc…”

  3. Other Steve – you’re asking people to take responsibility for something. That’s WAY too much to ask in this psychobabble world where nothing is ever anyone’s fault except for the usual suspects – i.e. big oil, big tobacco, big insurance companies, and anything else “big”, with big usually defined as “having deep pockets.”

  4. Jesse — To answer your final two questions: Yes, he has! And, uh, yes he must! Ralph likes sports, and reading, and walking in nature, and talking to people, and he recommends all those things. But yes, he usually recommends them in the context of “recharging your batteries” before you go out and fight the pro-citizen anti-corporate fight.

    This morning, incidentally, I interviewed Jeff Jarvis (of buzzmachine.com fame), who in his real life does stuff like help develop community-based features for NJ.com. One of the things he told me was that when you let newspaper readers create their own groupings of interest, one of the most vigorous & popular areas (maybe *the* most) is sports that isn’t necessarily covered in detail by the main paper. Sounds like a decentralized, grassroots free-market innovation that addresses some of Ralph’s concern!

  5. And like I said, I’m all for that. But if you read the letter Nader wrote, the whole idea is pitched as a way to give readers yet more spinach, not a way to tell them good stories about something they’d love to hear more about. It seems very tone-deaf to me, and I think it’s part of the reason that Nader turns so many people off.

  6. Without trying to seem too harsh, this is the sort of crap that gets written up in the free community bulletin papers. The off chance that the s**t will be written up in the local daily will hardly get anyone off their ass. Giving some info on the paper’s web site on the activities and when/where they occur is the best exposure.

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