NEW YORK — Jon Gruden looks at the present and predicted future of youth sports. It makes him cringe.
The Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN football analyst got involved with the Sports Matter program through the DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation last year. In just more than a year, Sports Matter has repaired fields, bought uniforms and equipment as part of DICK’s $25 million multiyear commitment.
More needs to be done, Gruden says, particularly in low-income areas across the nation.
Gruden cites statistics from Up2US Sports, an organization working with nonprofits, schools, recreational groups, government agencies and other community stakeholders to advance sports as a tool for addressing critical issues facing today’s youth.
The data show students from low-income families are four times more likely to participate less in sports because of costs, and 27 percent of U.S. public high schools will not have any sports by 2020. He notes that, according to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, sports participation rates among youngsters living in households with the lowest incomes are about half that of youth from wealthier homes.
“Sports should not discriminate against kids because they are from a poor area,” Gruden says. “If anything, it’s even more important for these students to have access to sports. Coaches can be great mentors, and teams will help them to grow and learn to rise up out of a bad situation.
“Many of us take participating in sports for granted, but youth sports are in real trouble.”
Gruden is encouraged that Sports Matter will now be partnered with DonorsChoose.org, a leader in crowd-funding for public schools. For the first time, DonorsChoose.org will feature a dedicated team sports section supporting public school athletic programs. Once each team in the program is funded 50 percent, Sports Matter will match dollar for dollar the contributions, up to $1.5 million.
“We need people to take a stand, and a good start is to go to sportsmatter.org to give a dollar, give $10, give something, and you could help save a team today,” Gruden says.
He was joined Tuesday for a panel discussion on the subject with Women’s World Cup star Carli Lloyd, New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and actor Michael B. Jordan.
All of them recognize the benefits of playing sports from a young age, and point to surveys by the Education Department, Up2Us Sports and The Aspen Institute supporting that belief:
—Physically active kids have up to 40 percent higher test scores and are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.
—Student-athletes are absent from school 50 percent less often than non-athletes and have fewer discipline referrals.
—Student-athletes have an 11 percent higher graduation rate than non-athletes.
—Students who participate in sports are four times more likely to attend college.
“The fact that physically active kids are more likely to succeed in school doesn’t surprise me,” Lloyd says. “As young athletes, my teammates and I learned discipline and perseverance through soccer that carried over to the classroom and other parts of our lives.”
Gruden, who has three sons, gets riled up when talking about the problems facing youth sports.
“I’ve been around sports my entire life, and it pains me deeply to know that by 2020 it’s estimated 27 percent of public high school sports programs won’t exist,” he says. “We are down a couple scores in the fourth quarter and need to act now if we are going to come back and win this game.”