At a conference in the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Aspen Institute, America’s most decorated Winter Olympian, Apolo Anton Ohno, stood in front of a group of some of the most celebrated minds in the country, and revealed some private information: The medal-collecting speed skater was once a teen whose nickname among taunting high school students was “Chunky.”
Better known as an Olympic medalist and svelte competitor on Dancing with the Stars, Ohno’s physique hardly matches his high school moniker, which is one reason he takes kids’ sports so seriously. His appearance at the inaugural Sports & Society roundtable discussion at The Aspen Institute was to champion the topic of kids and sports as being just as worthy as other subjects the 61-year-old think tank tackles, from business to health care.
“It’s not the most important thing for a child to be good in sports," he told national policymakers and an audience that included United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun. “But it’s important for children to be involved.”
The Institute’s new Sports & Society initiative was announced in early May, led by Tom Farrey, an Emmy Award-winning ESPN journalist and author of the book Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children. Aside from USOC chief Blackmun, participants included Olympic champions, elected officials, executives and more. An Aspen Institute release about the initiative describes Sports & Society’s mission to “convene leaders, foster dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sport serve the public interest, with a focus on the needs of children and communities.”
First steps, according to the Institute, are figuring out the modern barriers that limit widespread participation in sports among kids and teens. It cited a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Education that found that high school athletes are more likely than non-athletes to attend college and earn degrees.
“We have a national disaster on our hands here,” Blackmun stated at the conference, citing the following surprising statistics:
· Nearly 30 percent of American teens are completely inactive, meaning they do not exercise even one day a week.
· One study showed that the number of inactive children and teens has doubled in the last three years.
· Some children are spending as much as seven and a half hours per day in “screen time.”
The Sports & Society initiative noted that the U.S. is the “rare nation without a federal cabinet-level office to guide the development of sport.” Blackmun addressed how participating in sports – particularly learning sportsmanship and the ability to deal with loss – have contributed to his own now-grown kids’ success in the business world. What do you think – are sports a necessity in children’s lives? You can follow our own ongoing conversation about responsible sports coaching and parenting at ResponsibleSports.com.