The End of the Feel Good Story

By Tyler Quigley

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Everybody loves a good feel good story in athletics; stories that get shared all over social media sites and ESPN to make sure their story gets heard. Those coming up from nothing to become a world renowned name is an enjoyable theme in sports. They are the stories that get made into movies or receive special ESPN segments to talk about them. The ones that get the most respect in the sports world. Guys who never had the money to afford the national exposure, those who had single parent homes or were in low income neighborhoods. That’s the American dream in effect, making something out of nothing is what this country was founded in. But the rising youth sports cost could make this story obsolete. Names like LeBron James, Christiano Ronaldo, Michael Oher, Andrew McCutchen, Dez Bryant, and Tyrann Mathieu come to mind when we think of overcoming all odds to make it to the stage they are at today. Andrew McCutchen has spoken out several time about the cost of sports. He had to overcome rough neighborhoods and an upbringing that was overwhelmed by crime, drugs, and poverty.

These athletes are the role models many young kids look up to. They believe that if these athletes can make so can they. It gives them an ideal to strive towards.Sports offers people an escape from everyday life. Sports even help people overcome disasters. For instance New Orleans Saints provided the city pride and joy after they won the Super Bowl 5 years after Hurricane Katrina.

The Rising Cost of Youth Sports

The rising cost and competitive nature of youth sports is making it so those with the most money will be able to afford to receive the most exposure along with top notch equipment. Using the concept material circumstances I will examine the current economic conditions of youth sports to show the social movement of raising youth sport costs. This has made it nearly impossible for lower and even some middle class families to afford it. Material circumstances illustrate the material possession that the higher class possess over the “working class” and how this can be a disadvantage to those who do not receive the same possessions. One must also understand the historical concept of youth sports that allow for a competitive place for youth to compete in a healthy and engaging way, it allowed for all to be able to participate including most low-income households. But this has no longer become the case. Rising youth sports costs have allowed for material circumstances to become as prevalent as ever in the realm of youth sports. The participation rates have decline steadily in the last five years and this can largely be attributed to the increase in youth sports cost. The increase in youth sports cost as well as the ability to purchase the material goods needed for the sport is the theory of material circumstances in action in sports today.


Analysis of Youth Sports

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Over 45 million kids play sports in the United States. An Analysis of youth sports by Don Sabo indicates that money is the biggest indicator on whether or not kids will start sports early or not. In the chart below the mean age of entry for youths is depicted. This shows that the average age for boys is lower than girls and Caucasian youths start on average a year before minority populations. These numbers are rising due to the increase in cost for each youth sport. These depict a large discrepancy between gender, race, and socio-economic status. Single parent homes always play a factor in whether or not the child will play a sport at an early age. All of these rising costs put certain households at an advantage at the sake of others.


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Money is also an indicator in which sport the youths are playing. With low-income households playing sports like football and basketball more than other sports. This is likely due to the average costs of each sport to participate as well as the travel and material merchandise you must buy in order to compete. The lower income household also are not able to afford the travel leagues (ex. AAU) that would allow for there child to receive more exposure to the general public in order to make it big. The average cost per year for AAU basketball vary but are between $500- $1000 per year and that does not include travel, meals, and hotel fees that would come during the course of the year. This puts those who do not have expendable income to be at a disadvantage. These travel sports while often times are very competitive can put outstanding young athletes in the dark because they simply just cannot afford it.

High School Is More Important

The counter argument is that high school is free an allows for the athlete to be recruited and play for virtually free. However those who pick up the sport just in high school are still at a huge disadvantage. High school teams are generally those in which you try out for, and these athletes have to learn quickly. Often times will not have the skills needed in order to make the team. Several high schools in Fairfax County the players who are on the high school team have played together for many years and this gives them an advantage. In sports today besides football many college coaches do not take a trip to local high schools to look at athletes. They go to tournaments in which they can see multiple athletes at the same time. Unless you are an athlete that already has exposure college coaches and scouts likely will not be out to your game. This puts those who do not have the ability to afford it at a huge disadvantage. Besides the on field experience athletes get from youth sports they also receive much more. Youth sports also allow children to learn valuable lessons in life. They learn to respect the rules and authority as well as teamwork. 

Income Effect on Sports

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For many young athletes their dreams are to make it big. This was the dream of Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen who has expressed his discontent with the current youth sport costs. He elaborates about baseball used to be the poor kids way out. This leads to reason why it was America’s sport, because all you needed was a pair of ripped up jeans, a ball, and a bat. The new baseball calls for material goods such as the best bat or the best gloves in order to be successful. McCutchen talks about how hard it was for him to get recognized:


“But the thing is, nobody outside of Fort Meade knew who I was, even when I was 12 years old, the same age as those kids playing in the Little League World Series. When you’re a kid from a low-income family who has talent, how do you get recognized? Now, you have to pay thousands of dollars for the chance to be noticed in showcase tournaments in big cities. My parents loved me, but they had to work hard to put food on the table, and there wasn’t much left over. They didn’t have the option of skipping a shift to take me to a tournament over the weekend.”


The disadvantage and class gap in sports is very prevalent at the youth level but it seems to be overlooked often because of the feel good stories presented in professional sports today. The aspiration to make to the next level starts with college. Its no mystery how expensive college tuition can be, so low-income families again find themselves at a disadvantage to make it to the collegiate level. They find themselves gravitating to the sports that will allow them to receive a full scholarship, which is football and basketball. Many low income baseball players have to opt to enter the draft instead of going to college because they simply cannot afford even a partial scholarship that baseball gives. Guys like Andrew McCutchen gives both of these statements sentiment. He had this to say on the matter:


“And you know what’s crazy? Even despite all the breaks I got with baseball, I probably wouldn’t be a Major League player right now if I didn’t tear my ACL when I was 15. I thought I was going to play college football. Why? Economics. If I could’ve been a wide receiver for a D-I school, I would have chosen that path because of the promise of a full scholarship. The University of Florida offered me a baseball scholarship, but it only covered 70 percent of the tuition. My family simply couldn’t afford the other 30 percent. The fact is, no matter how good you are, you’re not getting a full ride in baseball.”


Students from urban cities are less likely to be enrolled in sports at there school according to the graph below. The schools with the least enrollment in sports today are also those with the highest amount of students on free or reduced lunch. As a result of budget cuts in several states, high schools are now requiring students to pay an extra fee to be able to play on the team. This occurs in public schools, which is basically the opposite of what public school education was meant to do and that is give each student an equal opportunity.

Athlete Participation          


Rising costs for youth league sports, high school sports, and college education has left the lower social class at a disadvantage. It creates a larger class discrepancy and presents those who are in good economic standing to be able to succeed in sports and get more and more exposure. The ability to afford to play multiple sports instead of specialization is another big advantage the higher economic class has. Lower economic status can lead to specialization because of the lack of funds required to play multiple sports, this is why sports like basketball and football are among the most popular sports because this sports generally can be played within the county and do not require an excess amount of material goods to participate like lacrosse, hockey, and golf do. This analysis proves the theory of material circumstances holds true in today’s society even in the realm of sports.

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