Hit & Run

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?