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The good and bad of sport

There is an unconscious human desire to identify with something greater than oneself. Often times this desire is satisfied through identification with sports.

In a Wednesday presentation titled “The Values of the Game,” Bill Pierce, Ed.D., health sciences department chair, discussed the value and lure of sport with a full-house of around 70 students in the Pitts Conference Room in Duke Library.

The lecture coincided with the library’s current exhibition “A Coach for Life: the J. Lyles Alley Collection” which celebrates the storied coach who also served as Furman’s athletic director. The exhibit is open through June 27.

Pierce’s presentation included a description of sport as a cultural universal and its pervasiveness through history.  He also described the tangible and intangible benefits associated with sport.  Finally, he presented the duality of sport – how sport is contradictory.  He said that it is both healthy and destructive, fair and foul, and it unites and divides.

Pierce, a basketball player in college, explored the role that television played in promoting and popularizing modern sports. As sports became increasingly televised in the latter half of the 20th century, he said, the public began looking to it as a source of entertainment.

And more often than not, he said, television shaped a sport’s popularity.

Fast-paced, time-limited games like football and basketball thrived in the television market. Football, often cited as the sport that televises best, replaced baseball as America’s most popular sport in the late 1960s.

One of the main components of American sports, he said, is the money involved in the industry. Furman spends $11.5 million annually on sports scholarships. To compare, the University of Texas Athletics Department was budgeted more than $153 million for 2011-12. Many professional coaches and athletes receive multi-million dollar salaries.

However, according to Dr. Pierce, even if you’re not a professional athlete, athletics “gives your life structure” and teaches valuable life skills such as teamwork, following the rules, and discipline. The leadership skills developed in athletics often lead to executive roles. According to Dr. Pierce, in a recent survey, 82 percent of the female chief executive surveyed had played high school sports.

While there are many benefits associated with sports, there can be a dark side to the games as well. Doping, gambling scandals and off the field criminal behavior are sadly part of modern sports.

Dr. Pierce said sports can unite people for good and bad causes. Nelson Mandella used rugby to reunite racially divided South Africa.). But the Nazi Olympics under Hilter’s rule helped to unite Germany, but with negative consequences.

Are sports overall positive, or negative? According to Dr. Pierce it depends on whether the coaches teach fair play and good sportsmanship and emphasize the pursuit of excellence over winning.

The professor pointed to Furman’s J. Lyles Alley as an example of what can be right with athletics. Alley served as Furman’s basketball coach for 33 years. While many of Alley’s teams were successful, Pierce said he is revered for the lessons he taught his young players about sportsmanship, the value of hard work and perseverance.

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