James Alan Fox and Jack Levin

July 9, 2002

Major league baseball used to be called "America's Pastime," a healthy diversion for kids of all ages. But in the interest of TV ratings (not to mention beer sales), it has really become "America's Primetime" with most games now played under the lights. Even this month's All-Star Game at Miller Park is pastime alright--past the time when many young fans can stay up to watch. And children permitted to catch this year's July showcase may not be so lucky on school nights in October when the World Series is telecast well after dark.
A generation ago, at a time when children still counted, many young fans would go down to County Stadium to sit in the bleachers and get autographs from the star players. Other kids would spend their afternoons rooting for the old Braves on radio or television. Inspired by the skillful performance of Warren Spahn or Eddie Mathews, they would then head out to the sandlot to imitate their heroes on the field.
As baseball has become less accessible to them, today's children have filled the entertainment void with violence; violent movies and video games are always available on demand. In the meantime, children's advocates are criticizing the role of the media in contributing to spiraling rates of youth crime.
Prompted by a Congressional investigation, top executives at the four networks conceded to provide viewer warnings for TV programs with dangerously violent content. Also at the direction of Congress, television manufacturers started installing V-chips in all new sets to allow parents to have remote control (all the way from the office) over their children's viewing choices.

Unfortunately, the idea of content ratings and hi-tech filtering devices misses the point entirely. Even if parents heed the warnings and supervise their children's viewing choices, what healthy and entertaining alternatives do they have? Going to see the WWE? Or maybe listening to some gangsta rap? How about playing Grand Theft Auto or Doom on the XBox?

In order to get children to tune out violence, we must give them something better to tune into. TV might consider taking its cue from the movies.

It is true that youngsters will flock to violent films like Lethal Weapon; it is also true that they will often shun "kid's movies" that are not rated at least PG-13. But the popularity of recent films like The Rookie (Rated G) indicates that children are drawn to sports stories, no matter what the rating.

So, it's not that kids have abandoned baseball--it's that baseball has abandoned the kids. We are not naive enough to suggest that we can bring back all the day games of yesteryear along with the free autographs and half-price tickets for children. But we certainly can have a major league "Game of the Day," televised nationally, everyday of the week. Teams play day games when it suits their travel schedules; what about the schedules of star-struck nine-year-olds?

Of course, the issue is much larger than just putting afternoon baseball back on the tube. For the sake of short-term economic savings, we have closed down the neighborhood movie houses, community recreation centers, and local swimming pools. To control taxes, we have neglected the zoos, playgrounds, ball fields and lakes.

So violence in the media may be a problem, but it is hardly the problem.  When it comes to reducing teenage violence, boredom and idleness are at the core. We can't just change the channel; we have to change our priorities.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice and Jack Levin is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University in Boston; both are Red Sox fans.