Running The New National Pastime?


Run­ning Shorts posed an inter­est­ing ques­tion in a recent post enti­tled “How to make run­ning more pop­u­lar than baseball.”

Do you ever won­der why kids grow up want­ing to be Michael Jor­dan, but not Ryan Hall? Or if dis­tance run­ning will ever be able to match the pop­u­lar­ity and adver­tis­ing bud­gets of MLB?

The arti­cle then goes on to spec­u­late how show­cas­ing events online through new media or mak­ing races more spectator-​​friendly can lead to an upsurge in pop­u­lar­ity for running.

Inter­est­ing ideas, but they’re based on the flawed assump­tions that more pop­u­lar equals bet­ter and that pro­fes­sional ath­letes who can be idol­ized by the masses are a nec­es­sary ingre­di­ent for attract­ing the masses.

​This con­nec­tion to ath­letes and spec­ta­tors is vital in cre­at­ing a grow­ing and loyal fan base. … “There is an obvi­ous con­nec­tion between the masses and the pro­fes­sional ath­letes, some of whom began as mid-​​packers.”

Bigger Is Not Better


For all the mil­lions and mil­lions of base­ball fans out there, how many of them actu­ally play? Maybe they played in lit­tle league or scraped up stick­ball games when they were kids, but I would spec­u­late that the vast major­ity of adult base­ball fans are spec­ta­tors — and that spec­tat­ing does noth­ing to advance the sport.

Sure, it brings in bil­lions of dol­lars of rev­enue and gives peo­ple some­thing to talk about at work the next day. But it also cre­ates prob­lems like the Barry Bonds steroids scandal.

Is this what we want for run­ning? As it is, run­ning is already plagued with its share of blood dop­ing and other scan­dals. For­tu­nately, if you Google “run­ning scan­dal” you find lots of scan­dals, but noth­ing related to run­ning until you get to the bot­tom of the page. Try the same thing for “base­ball scan­dal” and you get pages and pages of exam­ples of exactly what we don’t want to hap­pen to running.

Do Not spectate, Participate!

The other down­side to the media glitz and high pro­file image of pro­fes­sional sports, like base­ball, is that it actu­ally reduces fam­ily par­tic­i­pa­tion. Kids no longer want to play ball with Dad. Dad isn’t good enough any­more.

They’ll sit on the couch or in a sta­dium and watch a ball­game with Dad while he drinks a [few] beer[s]. But instead of play­ing ball as a fam­ily in the back­yard, Mom and Dad shut­tle their kids off to end­less T-​​Ball and Lit­tle League games in hopes that they can be good enough to make Var­sity in high school, and then play ball in col­lege.

And while Junior has dreams of get­ting drafted and grow­ing up to be just like Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa, Mom and Dad con­tinue to watch from the sidelines.

I think the beauty of run­ning is that it isn’t spectator-​​friendly. The only way to enjoy run­ning is to par­tic­i­pate! And through par­tic­i­pa­tion, we turn an indi­vid­ual endeavor of striv­ing to achieve mile­stones of new dis­tance records and PR’s into a com­mu­nity event where it’s more about sup­port­ing each other than com­pet­ing against each other.

I don’t expect my kids to grow up being active and fit because they want to be just like Usain Bolt. But I do hope that in time they will emu­late my com­mit­ment to run­ning and phys­i­cal fit­ness because I can set an exam­ple for them that may show them how to live hap­pier and health­ier lives.

And it is in this way that Run­ning gives each of us the oppor­tu­nity to be bet­ter role mod­els for our kids and our fam­i­lies than Barry Bonds could ever be.