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The All-American Addiction

Publication Year: 2002

John R. Gerdy knows sports inside-out. He has been an All-American Basketball Player whose college jersey was retired. He was briefly a professional player. Later he served as an associate commissioner in the NCAA's Southeastern Conference, and as a legislative and ethical advisor to the NCAA and the Knight Commission. Currently he teaches courses on sports administration. Now, in Sports: The All-American Addiction, he brings his insights and observations together in a radical, critical evaluation of the impact of sports on American life. This book argues that our society's huge investment in organized sports is unjustified. Ardent boosters say that sports embody the "American Way," developing winners by teaching lessons in sportsmanship, teamwork, and discipline. In fact, Gerdy writes, modern sports are eroding American life and undermining traditional American values essential to the well-being of the nation and its people. Like a drug, this obsession allows Americans to escape problems and ignore issues. Gerdy asks tough questions. Have sports lost their relevance? Is it just mindless entertainment? Is our enormous investment in sports as educational tools appropriate for a nation that needs graduates to compete in the information-based, global economy of the twenty-first century? Do organized sports continue to promote positive ideals? Or, do sports, in the age of television, corporate sky boxes, and sneaker deals, represent something far different? Boldly making his case, Gerdy detects five causes for alarm. A violent, win-at-all-cost mentality exists. A greater number of spectators are idly watching the few elite athletes. An athletic culture that is anti-intellectual systematically creates "dumb jocks." While bridges, inner-cities, and schools are crumbling, tremendous sums of tax dollars vanish to wealthy owners, millionaire players, and to college athletic programs. Studies show that sports are no more effective in promoting equality than any other American institution. Can organized sports be restructured? The author concludes with a series of daring suggestions for change. John R. Gerdy is visiting professor of sports administration at Ohio University, Athens. His books include Sports in School: The Future of an Institution and The Successful College Athletic Program: The New Standard. He has been published in such periodicals as Black Issues in Higher Education, NCAA News, Sporting News, and College Board Review.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book represents not only the sum of forty years of experience in athletics, but also in a significant way, the input and influence throughout the years of many family members, friends, teammates, teachers, and coaches. A few, in particular, deserve mention: My brothers, Greg and Tom, and my sister, Jeannie, whose advice, support, and perspective have always been, and will...

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pp. xi-xxiii

I have been involved in organized athletics my entire life in virtually every capacity imaginable—as a player, a youth league coach, as a fan, and as a youth and college administrator. I believe very strongly that participation in athletics can teach valuable life lessons in ethics, discipline, and teamwork. There is no question in my mind that athletics can contribute in...

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1. The Essence of the Game

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pp. 3-8

The summer after I had decided to stop chasing the dream of a career in the NBA, a college teammate was getting married in Charlotte, North Carolina. The church was not more than a mile from the arena in which we had played most of our college games. I was in the wedding....

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2. Buying In

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pp. 9-20

It is hard to imagine how a coach, chasing his son around the batting cage with a bat, screaming about not being disciplined at the plate, could possibly be a good thing. But there we were, watching silently, none of us all that surprised or terribly upset at what we were seeing. We had witnessed enough incidents where coaches screamed and yelled at their players. Although...

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3. The All-American Addiction

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pp. 21-39

I know the addiction well. I have spent countless hours at games, watching them on television, or reading about them in newspapers and magazines. I have to willfully resist snapping on the television to check out that night’s big game, or to catch a quick sports news update from ESPN. I am drawn to it like...

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4. Sport and a Civil Society

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pp. 40-64

With only a few minutes left in a close game, I stepped to the foul line for a free throw. We were playing North Carolina State in Reynolds Coliseum, their home court in Raleigh. As the official handed me the ball, I noticed the fans behind the basket, veins popping out of their necks, eyes red with rage and bulging from their sockets, screaming at the top of their lungs for me to miss. I was certain that their heads would...

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5. Dumb Jocks in the Global Economy

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pp. 65-113

The evolution of sport in America is strikingly similar to that of athletics in ancient Greece. In both cases, as sport grew in popularity, so did the rewards that came with success. Increased prize money and the prospects of becoming a widely recognized celebrity heightened the emphasis placed upon winning, resulting in increased “professionalization” of athletics. The consequences of such developments in...

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6. The Athlete as Couch Potato

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pp. 114-143

Each March, America is overcome by “madness.” Throughout the country, sports fans, both casual and hard-core, focus their attention on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In bars and bakeries, at the dinner table and over phone lines, people catch the madness. Office pools are organized and parties are thrown as television screens everywhere are tuned to “the Big Dance,” as teams from Boise to Bloomington; Athens...

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7. Give Me Your Money!

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pp. 144-170

You open the morning newspaper and see a picture of the owner of your local professional sports team next to an article entitled “Owner Demands Concessions.” The owner complains about how difficult it has become to compete against teams from larger markets. Citing escalating player salaries, increased travel costs, and a stadium that, despite being built only twenty years ago, is outdated, the owner cries out for...

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8. Sport and Upward Mobility

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pp. 171-190

During the 1997 season, Major League baseball celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking its color barrier. In virtually every account of this event, sport was credited as one of the most progressive and discrimination-free enterprises in our society. Advocates have long claimed that sport is a unique entity in this regard because in athletics, your worth is determined...

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9. “Get over It!”

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pp. 191-207

As we enter a new millennium, many of our American institutions are being scrutinized to determine their societal relevance in the next century. From our schools to our welfare system, old ideas, institutions, and philosophies are being examined, revised, or discarded, replaced by new ones more acceptable to the age with the...

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10. Mind over Body in the Information Age

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pp. 208-234

American education has tacitly endorsed, and our society celebrates, a culture that accepts the notion that it is an educational institution’s responsibility to provide the very best in facilities, coaching, and support so that elite athletes have every opportunity to develop their athletic abilities to the fullest. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to provide the resources and support to help an individual develop fully as an athlete. The...

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11. What If?

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pp. 235-251

Our enormous investment in organized sport has been justified largely on the health and educational benefits to participants. Beyond the individual benefits, are the alleged societal benefits—athletics as an important socialization tool and an economic force, as well as a means of improving military preparedness...


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pp. 253-258


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pp. 259-265

E-ISBN-13: 9781604739541
E-ISBN-10: 1604739541
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578064526
Print-ISBN-10: 157806452X

Publication Year: 2002


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