On the surface, Mother’s Day and sports aren’t synonymous.
Fact is, Mother’s Day might be the holiday that’s least associated with sports, even though, in reality, the games we play would be a lot different if it weren’t for mothers.
No doubt, moms have gotten plenty of acknowledgment in the past for their contributions to the sporting world. After all, what do athletes always say when they get their mugs on camera? “Hi, mom.” It’s one of the few small charms of professional sports that hasn’t disappeared. When the red light goes on on the sidelines, nobody says “hi” to their agent or their publicist or tries to pitch some new sneaker, at least not yet.
Tune in to a game or a race or open a sports section today and you’ll probably hear or read a heart-warming story or two. They’re usually about a single mom who raised five kids in poverty, and is now getting her just reward from a grateful son who’s made it to the big leagues, or a mother who overcame some sort of adversity or disease to attend every one of her son’s baseball games from Little League right up through the pros.
Most mothers don’t have to overcome those kind of odds, but they’re just as important to the sporting scene. If you played sports as a kid, chances are it was your mom who drove you to your games and practices, who washed your uniform after every game, who meticulously scrubbed out all the grass stains, and who applied the Bactine and Band-Aids to your skinned knee.
Once overlooked, these moms are now driving economic and political forces. They are the most valued customers of minivan dealers and prized voters of the last several elections, aka soccer moms.
Soccer moms are the ones who make the rec leagues go, whether it’s hauling their brood to practices and games or volunteering as coaches or on the league board.
There are lots of dads involved in these activities, too, but let’s not kid ourselves. If all the moms went on strike tomorrow, youth leagues in America would virtually disintegrate.
But mothers aren’t just inspiring their children with their devotion these days. Little by little, they are becoming greater athletic role models, too.
It’s been 34 years since Title IX was enacted. In the meantime, the number of girls participating in sports has increased from a few hundred thousand to close to three million. In more and more households, mom is just as likely as dad to have trophies, medals, newspaper clippings, old equipment, and photos of her high school and college career stored in the back closet.
The natural progression, then, is for these athletic moms to pass their love of sports and their know-how on to their children. Kids today are almost as apt to have played their first game of catch with mom or been taken to their first Red Sox game by mom.
Unfortunately, part of the reason is because there are more and more single-parent households now. But women in general and moms in particular are taking a more active role in sports, regardless of their marital status.
The next step is for them to have a stronger presence on the sidelines and in the power positions in sports. We certainly need more women joining the coaching or administration ranks in scholastic sports. For various reasons, most of them quite legitimate, men are leaving those fields in droves, and women are helping to fill the void.
We’re already seeing more female officials at boys’ and men’s games. We’re probably not too far from the day when there are women coaching our high school boys’ teams, or even men’s college and professional teams. And we’re closer to the first female general manager in men’s professional sports than any of us think.
Women, with moms leading the way, have more than paid their dues. A lot of them want to get out of the minivan now and get on the field.
They don’t just deserve a “Hi, Mom” and a wave to the camera anymore. They deserve our gratitude, respect and a chance to get their game-face on, so to speak.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]