A Classically Liberal Take on Sports and Other Extracurricular Activities

Note: My apologies if the following seems a bit thick with name dropping.  But one of the wonderful things about being part of Center of the American Experiment for almost 30 years, and being involved in public affairs before then, is that I’ve met many remarkable men and women who have become friends, often quite close friends.

A few days ago, online, I was watching writer Peter Wehner deliver a superb paper on character education under the auspices of the Hoover Institution and Fordham Institute.  He’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington as well as a New York Times columnist.

A conversation immediately afterwards between Pete and Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, dealt in part with the importance of young people spending less time in front of screens and more time interacting with other young people, face to face.  Which is to say non-electronically.  At which point Mike cited school athletic teams as great examples of eighteenth-century-philosopher Edmund Burke’s essential “little platoons.”  I had never thought of extracurricular activities such as basketball and hockey exactly that way, but Mike was clearly right.

I mention this because on that very same day, Wednesday, I was in conversation with several teammates from my college baseball team more than 50 hard-to-fathom years ago.  Even our coach was a participant (in the admittedly electronic) conversation.  And it’s not as if these exchanges are rare events, as many of us have stayed in touch with each other over the decades – sometimes in person.

Think about it.  While I have maintained ties with various friends from my time as a student at Binghamton University in the late ‘60s, a disproportionate number were guys with whom I rode buses for hours to play games at places like Hartwick and Hobart colleges, in early springs in upstate New York.  It makes my then-chilled, now warmed body think that Eddie (Burke) played a little ball back in London himself.

As for Pete Wehner, while we both worked at the U.S. Department of Education in the late 1980s, our friendship and bonding had much more to do with being part of a weekly touch football game he organized.  (This was when I could physically do such things.)

I might add the First Team quarterback those Sunday afternoons in DC was the secretary of education at the time, William J. Bennett.  Please trust me when I say I mention this not for major name-dropping reasons, but for the very cause of freedom, as it was no accident that my friend Bill, a couple of years later, agreed to keynote Center of the American Experiment’s first Annual Dinner in the deep of January.  At a discount, too.

Thanks again teammate.