Kareem Calls the Shots in Sports: Hockey Violence, Prayer on the Football Field, Ninja Warrior an Olympic Sport, and More
Four Recent Sports Stories that Caught My Eye
As goes sports, so goes the country. We can find many of the major social issues rocking the country reflected in our sports. Violence in hockey tells us what our values are when it comes to conscience versus commerce. Prayer on a high school football field tells us the dark road down which the country is heading, guided by a Supreme Court on a mission to dismantle 50 years of rights.
On the brighter side, we also have a television-inspired new Olympic sport and a history-making climb up Mount Everest. Read on—oh, what joys await you.
Is Hockey Violence Necessary?
I thought this question had been answered in Paul Newman’s hilarious 1977 film Slap Shot in which a desperate hockey team amps up the violence to become more popular. Guess not, because fist fights still abound (witness the team-wide brawl during the second game of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals last month) and are only discouraged the way a fussy aunt discourages a child from placing their elbows on the dinner table. In 2019 NHL commissioner Gary Bettman testified that intermittent fighting prevents bigger acts of violence and dangerous plays.
That’s like saying we should allow shoplifting to prevent armed robbery. You know how you stop frequent violence in a sport? You fire the perpetuators. Start with large fines, then end with termination. Clearly, Bettman was trying to justify continuing what some consider a major draw of the sport. Fortunately, an Ohio State University social science researcher and former collegiate and professional hockey player, Michael Betz, debunked Bettman’s lame excuse with an actual study he conducted that proved that fighting did not discourage greater violence and that brawlers commit increased incidents of violence and unsafe penalties.
When I played in the NBA, I was guilty of a couple spontaneous acts of violence, which I am ashamed of. But those acts occurred over 20 years. I understand that it’s inevitable that tempers will flair during sports with lots of physical contact and sometimes fists will fly. But every league should aggressively discourage violence. It’s an insult to athletes and to the sport to make outbursts of fistfighting a feature to bring in audiences. It’s telling the fans that the sport and the athletes aren’t entertaining enough.
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The Supreme Court Says a High School Coach Can Pray on the Field. Big Mistake.
My UCLA coach John Wooden was a devout Christian. He was one of the most moral people I have ever known. He showed his values and integrity daily to us and it made us all want to be better men. Good behavior should be the limit of any coach to foist their religious (or political) beliefs on impressionable young students. Show by example, not coercion, no matter how well-meaning the intent.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a former Washington State high school football coach was within his religious rights to pray with his team on the fields immediately after games. While I fully support his choice to pray as an individual, the moment you include the kids on the team, you’ve crossed the line from expressing your religion to active missionary work. Few high school teenagers would have the courage to face the disapproval and even ostracization by the coach or team by not joining in the prayer group.
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion, the court “consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible” and that the ruling did a “disservice” to schools, students and “the nation's longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”
Imagine how different the decision might have been if the coach had everyone take out a prayer rug or he put on a yarmulke and started reciting a prayer in Hebrew. Then it would have been considered “grooming.” Let parents teach their children to practice religion, not school officials.
Ninja Warrior May Become an Olympic Sport
I’m a fan of American Ninja Warrior because it’s a showcase for average people from all walks of life to display impressive athletic abilities. They don’t have to work their way through the hurdles of college and professional sports organizations. They just train their hearts out and show up to be triumphant or humiliated in front of millions. That takes enormous grit. Watching how people have become inspired by the sport enough to transform their bodies and their lives is what sports is about.
The challenging Ninja course is under consideration to become part of the Modern Pentathlon in the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics. Modern Pentathlon currently features five disciplines: fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, laser pistol shooting and running. In May, the organizers of the sport, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), announced that the Ninja course would be tested as a potential replacement for the equestrian show jumping.
I’m excited to see this addition to the Olympics. Not only will it be very entertaining, it will also open up Olympic participation to a whole new group of hungry young athletes.
First All-Black Group Reaches the Top of Mount Everest
On May 12, 16 years after Sophia Danenberg became the first Black person to make it to the top of Mount Everest, the seven Black members of the Full Circle Everest Expedition reached the summit. Before them, of the 4,000 climbers who have reached the top, only eight have been Black.
The group's climbers include Eddie Taylor, Frederick Campbell, James Kagambi, Desmund Mullins, Manoah Ainuu, Abby Dione, Rosemary Saal, Thomas Moore, and Philip Henderson, and eight Sherpa guides.
Member Abby Dione told CNN: “Our goal here is to help folks aspire to have a profound and respectful relationship with the outdoors and feel not entitled to it, but welcome to it. If you see it can be done, you can do it right.”
It’s always exciting to see history made in any sport. But this seems especially satisfying because it opens the sport up to a whole new group of people who before might not have seen this as something for them.