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Good Sports, Bad Sports

For the last several weeks, professional athletes have been on the first page of
newspapers as much as in the sports pages. Some news stories are about
extraordinary careers. Others are about athletes behaving badly.

Professional baseball players Cal Ripken and Tony Gywnn are among the heroes.
They were admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday at a ceremony in
Cooperstown, New York. About seventy-five thousand fans gathered there to
celebrate. Both men spoke about the importance of the public image of athletes.
Gwynn said professional baseball was about more than just playing. He said players
need to do the right thing for all the fans who love the sport. Ripken said players are
behavior models whether they like it or not. He said the only question is whether they
will be good ones or bad ones.

The speeches followed weeks of legal charges, accusations and investigations


involving sports professionals. In baseball, Barry Bonds is two homeruns away from
breaking the record set by Hank Aaron in nineteen seventy-six. Bonds' success has
renewed accusations that he used banned performance-improving drugs. However,
Bonds has never failed a drug test nor has he been charged with any crime.

Similar accusations of banned drug use also took place at the Tour de France bicycle
race last month. Several riders tested positive for a performance-improving drug.
And, in the final week of the race, the leading cyclist Michael Rasmussen of Denmark
was expelled on suspicion of taking banned drugs.

The International Cycling Union said there were more cases of doping in the Tour de
France this year because there was more testing.

An American professional football player is also in the news. Last week, Michael
Vick told a court in Richmond, Virginia, he was not guilty of charges connected to an
illegal dog-fighting business. The charges include extreme cruelty to animals.

Federal investigators say they found fight dogs and other evidence on Michael Vick's
property in Virginia earlier this year. A defendant who pled guilty in the case has
agreed to speak against Vick in court in return for a lesser sentence. Several sporting
goods companies that had paid Vick for the use of his name have ended their business
relationship with him. And an animal rights group, the Humane Society, is urging the
National Football League to suspend Vick from play.

Finally, some bad news in professional basketball. United States federal officials are
investigating former National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy. The
referee enforces the rules and keeps order in the game. He can stop play if he calls a
violation by a player and turn the ball over to the opposing team. Donaghy is being
investigated for betting money on basketball games, including some in which he was
a referee.He resigned last month.

More Physical Education, but


Also More Injuries in Class
Too much eating. Too many unhealthy foods. Too many advertisements for food. Too
little activity.

Different explanations are offered for America's weight problem -- a problem


increasingly shared by other countries. Almost one-fifth of American children and
teenagers are overweight.

Schools have been urged to increase physical education, an important tool for public
health. And many have. Yet now comes a study showing an increase in the number of
injuries in "phys ed" class. Injuries increased one hundred fifty percent between
nineteen ninety-seven and two thousand seven.

The study involved injuries treated in hospital emergency departments. Only two
percent were serious.

The researchers did not try to identify the causes of the increase, but they have some
theories.

Lara McKenzie from Ohio State University was the lead researcher. She says one
possibility is a decrease in the number of school nurses during the period they studied.
For example, a two thousand four study showed that the number of school nurses
nationally failed to meet federal guidelines.
Schools without a nurse on duty may be more likely to send an injured child to a
hospital.

Another possible reason for more injuries is a change in the traditional idea of
physical education. This "New P.E." expands the kinds of sports that are taught. But
activities that some schools offer now, like rock climbing walls and skateboarding,
can also expand the risks, says Cheryl Richardson. She is with the National
Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Also, she says not all states require P.E. teachers to be specially trained. Untrained
teachers could be less likely to recognize unsafe conditions.

Cheryl Richardson also points to one of the study's findings -- that injuries are often
the result of contact with a person or a structure. This tells her that the teachers were
not giving each student enough space to move around safely.

Six activities produced seventy percent of all injuries: running, basketball, football,
volleyball, soccer and gymnastics.

The study appeared online this week in Pediatrics, the journal of the American
Academy of Pediatrics.

The researchers say larger class sizes are another possible reason for the increase in
injuries. Larger classes can mean less supervision. The National Association for Sport
and Physical Education says twenty to thirty students in a P.E. class should be the
limit.

Young People and Sports


A leading group of American doctors is warning against forcing young people to
become skilled in a single sport. It says young people who play just one sport face
additional physical or other demands from intense training and competition. It says
children involved in sports should be urged to take part in different activities and
develop many skills.
A committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics prepared the policy statement. It
was published this month in the group's medical magazine, Pediatrics.

The doctors note that more and more children are skilled in one sport at an early age.
There are many media reports of young competitors in sports such as gymnastics,
figure skating and tennis.

Some of the most famous athletes first became active in a sport when they were five
years old. A few started even earlier. The committee noted that the successes of young
athletes can be a powerful influence for others to follow. It says children wishing to
compete at a high level require training that could be considered extreme even for
adults. It says the necessary desire and intensity of training raise many concerns about
the safety of high-level athletic activity for any young person.

The Academy says the health effects of intense training in young athletes need to be
fully investigated. Risks to young athletes include injuries, delayed menstruation,
eating disorders and emotional stress.

The committee of doctors offered some suggestions. It urged children to become


involved in sports at levels that meet their abilities and interests. It said doctors should
work with parents to make sure that someone knowledgeable is training the child
athlete. That person should know correct methods of training, equipment and the
physical and emotional health of young competitors.

The group said doctors should supervise the condition of child athletes involved in
intense training. It said doctors and trainers should work to prevent injuries that result
from too much physical activity. Doctors should make sure the children eat a healthy,
balanced diet. And doctors should watch for signs of too much training, including
weight loss and sleep problems.