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Ralph Nader’s Sports Policy Project Recognizes Individuals and Organizations That Epitomize the Spirit of Sports and Promote Fair Play and Justice for all Stakeholders

Ralph Nader announced today the winners of the 2012 League of Fans’ “Sport At Its Best” awards. The individuals and organizations cited were honored for working toward a level playing field, promoting sportsmanship, and continually enhancing the positives of sport in their realm of influence.

“Our focus with the League of Fans is to mitigate the problems and negatives in sports. We promote fairer sports policies for all sports stakeholders, urge more participation in community sports, and push our sports organizations to be more socially responsible in their decision-making and actions,” says Nader, League of Fans’ founder. “However, it’s important that we also occasionally take the time to highlight and celebrate what’s right with sports today. That’s what these awards are all about.”

League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, said the “Sport At Its Best” awards are intended to honor a higher purpose for sport — beyond winning and making money.

“These honorees are the antithesis of the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities that too often drive decision-making and policymaking in sports today,” said Reed. “The League of Fans’ Sport At Its Best award winners epitomize a sports value system that transcends ego and greed. They recognize that while striving to win and making a profit – in appropriate instances — can be admirable goals, there are ethical limits as to what’s acceptable in seeking those ends.”

The 2012 League of Fans’ “Sport At Its Best” award winners are as follows:

Humanistic Coaching – John Gagliardi, Saint John’s University, Minnesota.

Gagliardi is the winningest coach in college football history (484-133-11 with four national championships). But what’s more important is how he’s done it: by following the Golden Rule.

“I think the key is the Golden Rule,” says Gagliardi. “Treat kids the way you’d like to be treated. Coach them how you would like to be coached. We want guys to observe the Golden Rule. That will take care of most everything. That’s our only rule. Find kids that don’t need any other rules besides the Golden Rule. Those who need other rules won’t keep them.”

Gagliardi’s coaching style is the antithesis to that used by the autocratic coaches that dominate team sports today. Autocratic coaches make every attempt to rule the athlete’s every move, from practice and games to their private lives, including what they eat and when they sleep. Power is a given; compliance and obedience are expected. Coaches of this type are quick to recognize mistakes and distribute punishments. The psycho-social ramifications for the athletes as human beings is too often but a secondary consideration to a win-at-all-costs (WAAC) outlook.

Gagliardi is best described as a humanistic coach. Humanistic coaches believe that teams characterized by a more democratic and humanistic atmosphere will have higher levels of internal motivation, satisfaction and morale, and as a result, more commitment to the team, and greater productivity than those groups directed by authoritarian coaches.

Gagliardi is well-known for his list of “No’s” that reflect his coaching philosophy. For example:

• No resemblance to a boot camp.
• No whistles.
• No yelling or screaming at players.
• No laps.
• No wind sprints.
• No tackling in practice.
• No practices longer than 90 minutes.

Make no mistake about it, Gagliardi wants to win but he won’t sacrifice his principles to do it.

Player Safety Advocacy – Chris Nowinski, Sports Legacy Institute

Chris Nowinski is one of the foremost educators, advocates, and researchers in the field of sports concussions and brain trauma. A former Harvard football player and WWE wrestler, Nowinski was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and forced to retire in 2004. He began a quest to better understand his condition and quickly discovered that a lack of awareness about brain trauma among athletes, coaches and medical professionals was threatening the short-and-long-term well-being of athletes of all ages.

Nowinski eventually teamed up with Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the country’s leading researchers in the area of concussions, and co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) with Cantu. SLI is a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis. Nowinski also serves as a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine. In addition, he is the author of Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis.

“We need to annually educate coaches, parents and athletes,” says Nowinski. “Every athlete needs to know that you don’t mess with brain injuries. Almost every athlete knows you don’t mess with neck injuries because you can end up paralyzed. In a similar way, every athlete needs to learn about brain trauma and realize you don’t take chances with brain injuries. We need to start educating young athletes when they’re six years old. We have to get to the point where athletes can recognize the symptoms of concussion in themselves and their teammates.”

Excellence in Sports Journalism – Joe Nocera, New York Times

Joe Nocera is an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, been a business writer, and served as a writer and editor for Fortune magazine for 10 years. He frequently writes about various NCAA and college sports issues from an ethics and civil rights perspective. His college sports columns have garnered a large audience.

“In looking at the NCAA it became apparent that they have a bunch of egregious rules when it comes to the treatment of players,” says Nocera. “The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids. They have a labor force that does all the work but doesn’t get paid. It’s a plantation system. The NCAA has lost their sense of mission. This is not really a sports issue. It’s a civil rights issue. It’s a race issue and justice issue. It’s about American values and the right way to treat people you have power over.”

College Sports Reform – Taylor Branch

Taylor Branch is a civil rights and presidential historian best known for his trilogy on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the first part of that trilogy, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63. He also wrote The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With The President, among many other books, including Second Wind, which he wrote with basketball superstar Bill Russell. He also served as an editor with The Washington Monthly and Harper’s and was a columnist for Esquire magazine.

Sports have always been a sideline interest for Branch. His curiosity about why the NCAA seems to always be in perpetual scandal led him to conduct a survey history of college sports. Branch recently wrote a comprehensive feature article for The Atlantic summarizing this work entitled, “The Shame of College Sports,” in which he attacks the foundational structure of big-time college sports.

“There are a lot of issues concerning the governance of college sports,” says Branch. “Who are the stakeholders? What are their rights? Who’s stepping up to their responsibilities? If we start by recognizing everyone’s rights, we can reform things fairly in college sports. We can’t deprive athletes of their rights, including the right to earn a livelihood. This whole issue of the rights of college athletes is sitting there as the elephant in the room whenever the subject of college sports reform is brought up. My primary concern is the basic rights of these athletes.”

Fan-Friendly Team Ownership – Green Bay Packers

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers are owned by the fans, not a wealthy owner operating with a profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) philosophy. The Packers are a publicly-owned non-profit with a unique stock ownership structure.

Green Bay’s bylaws state that the Packers are “a community project, intended to promote community welfare.” What a refreshing concept.

“We’re owned by this community,” says Mark Murphy, the Packers’ president and chief executive officer. “We can’t be perceived as gouging the fans.”

Now there’s a statement you won’t hear from other pro sports team executives. And that’s unfortunate because the Packers could provide a model for pro sports: community ownership.

“It makes them an example,” according to ESPN’s Patrick Hruby. “A case study. A working model for a better way to organize and administer pro sports.”

However, the National Football League (NFL) rulers have formally banned any more Green Bay Packers-type ownership structures. Former commissioner Pete Rozelle changed the NFL constitution in 1960 to prevent another franchise from going to the Green Bay model. Article V, Section 4 of the NFL constitution, the “Green Bay Rule,” says that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the National Football League.”

The other major professional sports leagues in the United States have informally followed suit. That’s a shame. The Green Bay system works beautifully, and ideally would be the norm in all pro sports leagues. While the Green Bay model shouldn’t be mandated, it certainly should be allowed as a viable option.

Equal Opportunity in Sports – Arthur Bryant, Executive Director, Public Justice

Arthur Bryant’s legal work on Title IX is unparalleled in the area of equal opportunity in athletics for girls and women. Through his work on a wide variety of Title IX lawsuits, Bryant has won innumerable concessions for female athletes throughout his career.

In 1994, he was named by College Sports Magazine as one of the fifty most influential people in college sports, due to his success litigating Title IX cases.

“Title IX is a stable law, however, enforcement has been left to the private sector in the form of Title IX lawsuits,” says Bryant. “The single most effective tool is litigation.”

Despite his outstanding success in the Title IX arena, Bryant remains a relatively unsung hero when it comes to pursuing equal opportunity in sports for both genders.

Bryant gets perturbed when Title IX is used as a scapegoat for budget decisions made by athletic directors.

“The truly sad part about the Title IX story is that people don’t understand what Title IX requires,” says Bryant. “Too many are scapegoating Title IX as forcing the elimination of men’s teams. I think college administrators find it easier to blame Title IX for the budget decisions they make. That’s the problem: People continue to advance things that Title IX was intended to attack.”

Anti-BCS Activism – PlayoffPAC

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is one of the most flawed, corrupt, unethical — and probably illegal — organizations we have in sports today. The BCS prevents fans from enjoying a college football playoff to crown a true national champion. It treats FBS/Division I-A schools that aren’t in one of the six BCS conferences unfairly and unjustly. It’s a mechanism for creating more money for everyone involved in big-time college football EXCEPT the players. The list of ethical and legal problems with the BCS goes on and on.

Sports Illustrated college football writer, Austin Murphy, calls the BCS “a profoundly unsportsmanlike institution.”

Playoff PAC is a political action committee dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football. The group has done an excellent job advocating for a playoff system to replace the BCS system, while at the same time exposing the corruption in the existing bowl system.

PlayoffPAC’s website states, “Fans, players, schools, and corporate sponsors will be better served when the BCS is replaced with an accessible playoff system that recognizes and rewards on-the-field accomplishment.”

PlayoffPAC is doing excellent work toward that end.

Youth Sports Reform – Jim Thompson, Positive Coaching Alliance

Jim Thompson is the founder and chief executive officer of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a first-of-its-kind organization created in 1998 to combat the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) mentality that is prevalent in high school and youth sports today. Thompson started the non-profit at Stanford University with a mission of transforming the culture of youth sports “so that all youth athletes have a positive, character-building experience.”

One of the best things about PCA is that it actively resists the ego-and-greed-based pressure to professionalize youth sports. Thompson does this by stressing the “double-goal” approach to high school and youth sports: 1) striving to win; and 2) developing positive character traits, teaching life lessons, and promoting sportsmanship.

Since its founding, Positive Coaching Alliance has developed a network of more than 130 trainers across the U.S., who have delivered 10,000-plus workshops for youth sports leaders, coaches, parents and athletes. Those are impressive numbers but given the state of youth sports in America today, we need the PCA message and approach to spread as fast as possible and touch every athlete, coach, and parent involved in youth sports in this country. Due to an outstanding strategic planning process, Thompson has PCA on track to do just that over the course of the next decade.

Thompson was named one of the Top 100 Sports Educators in the U.S. by the Institute for International Sport (IIS) in October 2007. Dan Doyle, IIS Executive Director, described PCA as “the finest organization of its kind in the United States.”

The League of Fans seconds that.

Sport For All Americans Proponent – PE4life

The need for programs promoting physically active young people has never been greater in this country. Childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high. Physical education and intramural sports programs are being cut at an unprecedented and shocking rate. Recess time is being scaled back. All this at a time when a growing mound of research is revealing that exercise not only promotes health and wellness, but also academic achievement and positive behavior in school.

Physical inactivity is a major societal problem. This is especially the case with our young people. Approximately thirty-five percent of American children are obese or overweight today, nearly triple the rate in 1963. We’re approaching a Type 2 diabetes epidemic with our young people. Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” No longer.

PE4life believes that all children are athletes in the sense that they all need to move on a regular basis. The Kansas City-based non-profit promotes quality, daily physical education programs for all children – not just the athletically-inclined. PE4life classes utilize small-sided team sports in order to get all children involved. The organization also promotes lifetime sports and other physical activities. Cardiovascular fitness is a cornerstone of the “PE4life Way” and research consistently shows that students in PE4life schools are healthier, perform better academically and have fewer behavioral problems.

“PE4life has a proven record of reversing the trend in this country of inactivity by increasing physical education, which has been proven to impact students’ ability to learn,” said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.

Phil Lawler, a long-time physical education teacher and PE4life director, beautifully described what PE4life is all about.

“It’s about enabling each student to maintain a physically-active lifestyle forever. It means emphasizing fitness and well-being, not athleticism. It eliminates practices that humiliate students. And it assesses students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals. A quality PE program exposes kids to the fun and long-term benefits of movement – it’s really that simple.”

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