Cleaning Up Youth Sports: A Job for the Senate’s Beefed-Up Women’s Caucus

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November 5, 2012
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November 7, 2012

From my perspective, it was a good election night. As the father of a Nate and a baseball fan, I enjoyed seeing affirmation of the sabermetric principles of Nate Silver, Twitter’s @fivethirtyeight, in the game of life. The attainment of 270-plus electoral votes for the second time also at least momentarily cured the latest attack of rhetorical laryngitis sustained by our eloquent and historic 44th president. From here to there, gay marriage measures passed, homophobic measures failed. The Tea Party seems headed for the dustbin. And in the Connecticut Senate race, it was deja vu all over again for Linda McMahon, the Grandma Warbucks of World Wrestling Entertainment.

On deep-seated cultural issues this space has promoted — which intersect at the insane obsession with and professionalization of youth sports — I am not as sanguine. Yesterday’s democratic exercise, of course, was not a referendum on traumatic brain injuries in Pop Warner football or systematic sexual abuse in USA Swimming. Moreover, as expected, the election formula I had prescribed for a turnaround in these areas — regained control of the House of Representatives by the Democrats — did not happen. Revving up the economy and winding down the Asian wars are far ahead on the priorities queue, and my and others’ ruminations on their connections to concussions or coach rape will not carry the day. Certainly not in the face of the $876,857 in campaign donations doled out to 217 poliiticians this cycle by the National Football League’s Gridiron Political Action Committee (according to Sports Illustrated), or of the ongoing kitsch clout of the Olympic brand.

The glimmer of hope I do see is in the record 20 female senators who will take office in the 113th Congress. In a trope which, I must say, has gotten me absolutely nowhere in singles bars, I continue to believe that women are as key to meaningful sports reform as they were to President Obama’s reelection. Throughout history, whether the “social” cause was temperance, tolerance, or war and peace, it has been mothers and potential mothers who defined and pushed the agenda.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the macha allure of sports tied our female population into knots. Just as surely as the Gridiron PAC has bought and paid for our elected leaders, the NFL’s dangling carrots of grant money, prestige, and terminal coolness have co-opted the best and the brightest of female “sports safety” voices. Now that we have the modest improvements of ObamaCare, the national reforms missing even more ominously than healthcare remain Mothers Against Drunk Football and Mothers Against the Molestation of Our Daughter Athletes.

With respect to the former, panels of bloviating experts continue to substitute for the gut and common sense. (In Switzerland last week, a kind of global congress on concussions resolved to report its consensus that football under age 14 might not be such a capital idea — by next March!) With respect to the latter, the inches-thick file of sex crimes and cover-up in U.S. Olympic Committee-sanctioned age-group swimming still hasn’t concentrated the American mind on the damage inflicted on our society by the athletic casting couch.

As I have reported, Congressman Mike Honda, who represents the district in and around San Jose, California — one of several epicenters of the swimming abuse scandals, which dwarf the one at Penn State — publicly expressed interest in exploring legislative hearings on the corruption and illegality at USA Swimming.

Now that the Republicans have held serve in the House — while women of both parties have made significant gains in the Senate — I hope Honda adopts a creative strategy. A call for House hearings is certain to buff the image of Honda and his nebulous Anti-Bullying Caucus, but just as certain to accomplish little in the way of actually protecting 300,000 girl and boy competitive swimmers across the country.

A coordinated bi-partisan, bi-cameral, bi-gender investigation of the swimming establishment is in order. It must start in January 2013. We don’t have a moment to lose. Before you know it, NBC’s Olympic theme song from Rio de Janeiro once again will be mesmerizing millions.

Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick