Despite a glut of sports on TV, the lack of youth leagues and teams in the pandemic could cost us for years to come.


By Kurt Streeter

Tyrone Riley is worried. He is a basketball coach and a father, and he is witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on youth sports in America.

He describes it as a tragedy.

Riley is the coach of the boys’ varsity team at Jordan High School in Watts, one of the hardest parts of South Los Angeles. He graduated from Jordan, grew up in one of the housing projects nearby, and went on to succeed in college basketball and then in European pro leagues.

He knows to his core the power that sports can have in changing lives and bringing communities together.

He also knows the grim reality of what has unfolded since the coronavirus spread to the United States in March.

Far from the glamour of professional and college games that appear in abundance on our screens, sports are barely limping along at the community level where children learn to love games and families come together to sit in stands and form lasting bonds.

Since March, youth participation in sports has dropped off a cliff.

In communities like Watts, sports barely exist at all.

“Everything is closed down,” Riley told me this week. Recreation centers. Gymnasiums. Many outdoor basketball courts are surrounded by fences and locked gates.

Riley has two sons, ages 14 and 10. They’re budding basketball players. But all they can do right now is train when they can, where they can. Usually, that’s in the early morning at one of the outdoor courts, far from anyone else.

“I’m a coach, but the time my boys spend playing is down probably 80 percent,” he said. “I spend a lot of time wondering how we’re going to get out of this.”

Riley is not alone.

Tom Farrey is worried. He directs the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank. His focus has long been on improving the world by increasing access to sports for young people.

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