As the world returns to normalcy following perhaps one of the most impactful events in recent history, we begin to see kids returning to sports and fans rushing back to stadiums. Sports are one of the most constructive outlets for any child growing up. It teaches valuable life lessons such as skill-building, teamwork, and humility. Those that are blessed with an outstanding ability to play will continue their athletic careers down the road to possibly play for some of the top educational institutions and maybe professionally. Yet, to get to that benchmark of playing collegiately or even professionally. One must have the best talent, the proper resources, genuine exposure, and the right support system surrounding the athlete. For many young athletes that live in the inner city and other underserved communities, this concept of using sports as their avenue for a better life is a common dream. However, without access to beneficial resources and athletic opportunities, this idea of playing professional sports will simply remain a dream for most of these kids.
Growing up in any suburb, kids are expected to participate in extracurricular activities. Whether it’s music, dance, theater, or sports many find their passions for one of these activities one way or another. Sports is a privilege that many can say has had an impact on their childhood. Now, what about those in underprivileged communities? Some find their way to get their children involved in youth sports at a young age, but some families in those communities are not always able to let their children experience it. The reason is not that their children are not skilled or prepared enough to play. It is simply because the financial barriers of the athletic equipment required to play prohibit them from participating.
According to the Aspen Institute Project Play Report, “ Sports participation rates among youth living in households with the lowest incomes ($25,000 or less) are about half that of youth from wealthier homes ($100,000+) — 16 percent vs. 30 percent.” Understanding the barriers that are put in place for these kids to participate in youth sports, puts into perspective the realistic chances of them making it collegiately or professionally are incredibly slim. When these students are given the same opportunities as those with access to the proper resources, many of them find benefits that help them in their future. Benefits such as valuable team skills, positive impacts on health, and abilities revolving around social interaction. For parents of low-income kids, this does not just mean they are not able to chase their dreams. It means that they are robbed of an experience that may help them develop the proper abilities to succeed later in life. Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, said it best when he mentioned, “Institutions that were meant to be opportunity-equalizers for the rich, poor, and everybody in between — community youth sports leagues, public high schools, the American college system — are being stealthily hijacked to serve the primary goal of so many high-income parents, which is to replicate their advantages in their children’s generation.” Sports represent so much more than just a pastime. In contemporary society, sports are the open doors used by all families to help their children succeed and improve their overall status in life. It goes without saying that many in low-income families do not get the same opportunities as those with more favorable resources.
Those in underserved communities that excel in sports well throughout high school will get the opportunity to earn a scholarship that allows them to attend a flagship university. How often do students with lower-class backgrounds get to play at the Division 1 level? According to ESPN Reporter Tom Farrey, he states, “Fewer than 1 in 5 students playing Division 1 hoops, and 1 in 7 in all Division 1 sports, come from families in which neither parent went to college. And their numbers are declining.” Only 14% of all athletes in Division 1 sports come from parents who have never attended any form of higher education beyond high school. This stat alone should put into perspective how difficult it truly is to not just compete but to have the opportunity to participate in Division 1 sports. The bright light at the end of the tunnel is that those who are the best of the best in terms of talent will eventually get to live out their dream of playing professionally.
One of the most important things for young athletes to understand that to achieve their goals, they need to be realistic. According to a study conducted by the NCAA, it explains, “Sadly though, it comes as a rude surprise to many athletes yearning for a professional sports career to learn that the odds against success are astronomically high. Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams — and just being drafted is no assurance of a successful professional career. “Student-athletes” whose sole and now failed objective was to make the pros suddenly find themselves in a world that demands skills their universities did not require them to learn.” Due to this common occurrence, many from low-income families may resort to working a job they weren’t prepared for coming out of college. It should be noted that this is a reality for many who are products of low-income households after realizing their athletic career is over. With this being understood, it is important to know which programs would be helpful to combat these limitations to sports for these communities.
Organizations like Every Kid Sports are a proudly recognized entity that helps qualifying families let their children experience the participation of sports. Their program pays for the registration fees required in youth sports and provides access to everyone an opportunity to play. Their overall goal is to help 100,000 kids from low-income families play youth sports. Another amazing organization is All Kids Play. A non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to families and communities that lack the essential resources to participate in youth sports. They also aim to provide education on safe and healthy sports-related play. Programs put in place such as these two will help close the unfair gap to access youth sports in these communities.
Analyzing all the factors that not only go into playing sports professionally but just playing sports as a child. There is a multitude of obstacles for children in underserved communities to participate in sports. However, understanding that there is a possibility to help solve this inequality in society. It is important to know that sports will continue to be a privilege until the majority realizes that it’s vital for these kids to have access to play sports.