Sports and Society Program
Sports and Society Program
What We Do
The mission of the Sports & Society program is to convene leaders, foster dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sport serve the public interest, with a focus on the development of healthy children and communities. The program provides a venue for thought leadership where knowledge can be deepened, and breakthrough ideas explored, on a range of critical issues.
For more than a century, sport has been a tool of nation-building, integrated into school systems and urban design, the tax code and public airwaves. Ideas of who we are individually and collectively are developed in the course of playing and watching games. Today, sport is a major cultural force, reflecting and shaping society. But what are the values we want sport to encourage? The human assets we hope to produce?
The Sports & Society Program was launched in May 2011 when more than three dozen leaders and journalists convened in Washington D.C. to consider a foundational question that has driven much of our programming to date: Who gets to play sports? The U.S., like many nations, faces an epidemic of physical inactivity, which, according to one study, has declined 32 percent over the past generation and a half. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980. Two-thirds of Americans now are overweight or obese, directly costing the nation $90 billion a year ($147 billion with indirect costs), a figure projected to grow to $191 billion by 2030.
Adolescents who play sports are eight times more likely to be active at age 24 than adolescents who do not play sports. Yet, for many children today, the barriers to participation emerge early. Largely gone is the era of the sandlot, of unstructured play. Now, adult-organized competition prevails—but is not accessible to all. Support has shifted toward early forming traveling teams and away from inclusive, in-town programs, often the only options for the late bloomer, the economically disadvantaged, the child of a single parent, and the kid who needs exercise more than any other—the clinically obese. At some urban schools, no more than one in five students play a sport.
Since the launch meeting, the program has continued to convene leaders and connect the silos that comprise the nation's disjointed sport system—schools, clubs, governing bodies, parks and recs, coaches, et al—in an effort to identify systemic breakdowns and scalable solutions. In May 2012, a symposium, "Title IX and Beyond: How Do We Get the Rest of Our Girls into the Game?" addressed the needs of perhaps the most underserved population, girls from low-income families. Nine solutions were proposed by speakers. The symposium changed the national conversation in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of Title IX by identifying future directions for growth in women’s sports.
In June, the Sports & Society Program helped organize the first-ever sports track at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo. Nine panels over four days considered the role of the Olympic movement in promoting sport activity, the concussion crisis in football, the uncertain state of college sports, the ethical code of extreme competition, and the role of sports in society, among other topics. Near the end of the sports track, NFL legend and civic activist Jim Brown told an auditorium, "These sessions will (do more) than anything that can happen in this country to bring about positive change."
In November, the program hosted a roundtable that drilled deeper on football's role in serving the interests of children, communities and public health. The event, "Playing Safety: The Future of Youth Football?" brought together three dozen leaders and journalists to consider such topics as the age at which tackle football should be introduced to children. Featured guests included Dr. Robert Cantu, a pioneer in identifying and managing sports concussions, and DeMaurice Smith, NFL Players Association executive director.
Other speakers who have participated in panels, roundtables and other events organized by the Sports & Society Program include Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, college basketball coach Craig Robinson, New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, and citizen athletes Michelle Kwan, Apolo Anton Ohno, Maya Moore, Edwin Moses and Mark Messier. Full speaker list here.
Media outlets that have written about, live streamed or created television programming around our panels and events include the New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN, C-SPAN, The Atlantic, Forbes.com, Slate, and the WORLD Channel.
In 2013, the Sports & Society Program will ramp up its exploration of the "sport for all" theme. Among the events will be a three-day summit underwritten by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Aspen, where 70 leading figures from sports, government, philanthropy, academia, medicine, media and other sectors will consider models that encourage broad-based access to healthy sport activity.
To learn more about the Sports & Society Program, please fill out this form or contact Sports & Society director Tom Farrey at (860) 798-0752.