Today I read a story from the Los Angeles Times about Helen Zell, wife of billionaire Sam Zell who just donated $50 million to the University of Michigan for creative writing programs. I applaud the Zell’s for their generosity, but this is very rare in the world of philanthropy.
Most of the philanthropic efforts being made by millionaires in this country have to do with sports or scientific efforts…but mostly sports. The SEC for example spends $163,961 on each athlete. Think of how much could be done for the arts or for science if we could funnel all money sent to sports into the previous two categories.
Locally, T. Boone Pickens, an Oklahoma oil magnate, donated $400 million to Oklahoma State University with 65% of that being allotted for the athletic program. What if that $265 million was spent on scientific pursuits or for scholarships for journalism or MFA majors?
The United States places more importance on sports than any other country in the world. It drives our economy. People spend more money on sports in this country than most countries’ GDP. Last year we spent an average of $16 billion on Super Bowl parties, sports equipment for our kids and college sports merchandise. The 2012 budget for the NCAA was $871.6 million and 4% of that came from investments. Pretty good for a non-profit organization.
Currently there is much debate about what role college sports has at college, and with the sex scandals and coverups that are raging through the media in recent past there is a definite question about the importance of sports in schools. The CDC released a report which questions the public health burden that sports have on students in the United States with some alarming results.
As we all know, sports does however foster physical fitness, teamwork and a competitive nature that is in many ways healthy, but is there a correlation between sports and the fact that the United States, at least among the richest countries in the world, still ranks very low in life expectancy when compared to other rich countries. When our kids go on trips with the team to another school to play ball, they often stop at McDonalds on the way back or the way there for dinner, therefore perpetuating the unhealthy lifestyle that no amount of athletic activity can remedy.
In conclusion, I feel that sports should drop in importance to more long lasting pursuits such as science and the arts. Generous benefactors, if they want long lasting fruit for their donations, should do more like the Zell’s and less like the Pickens of the world. Some budding writer might garner a scholarship who otherwise could not afford college and pursue their dream of writing the great American novel. Oklahoma State University has yet to win a National Championship to spite all the money thrown at them. They have a new stadium, a nicer facility to train athletes, but in 100 years they will tear it down. We are still reading Shakespeare.