Forty million kids around the world are involved in organized athletics each year.

About 65 percent say that’s how they met their closest friends. Childhood obesity is 10 times less likely. Standardized test scores can be up to 40 percent higher. Adolescents are 15 percent more likely to go to college.

Athletics can do that.

Thirteen different types of cancer are significantly less likely. Suicidal ideation can decrease by more than 10 percent. High risk kids are one-third as likely to be arrested during adolescence and a quarter as likely to become criminal offenders during adulthood.

Athletics can do that.

Building tolerance, competence and confidence. Learning skills for teams, self-esteem and how to dream. Developing cooperation, innovation and motivation. Knowing how to act, interact and not distract.

Athletics can do that.

A $1.25 million cover-up for 160 reports of assault. Thirty years with a predator in a position of power. Thirty years of a predator earning six figures annually to tear away the integrity of the sport. Thirty years of an organization designed to protect its athletes covering up the worst sex scandal in history.

Athletics did that.

But that is not what athletics are supposed to be about. The value that people gain from being physically active, from childhood all the way through adulthood, is undeniable. But organizations like USA Gymnastics and abusers like Larry Nassar have exploited the importance of athletics. The sanctity of athletics is under attack and we need to take it back.

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USA Gymnastics needs to be scrapped so that an organization that values its athletes can rise from the ashes. People who take advantage of young athletes need to be cast aside so that those wanting to inspire, teach and support young athletes can emerge from the shadows.

It should not take 160 tragedies to create a safe athletic environment — it shouldn’t even take one. We cannot feed this culture any longer. We need to recognize the gravity of the problem and commit to doing better. Protecting athletes needs to be the top priority of every sports governance body, because without the athletes, there would be no athletics.

The purpose of athletics has been lost and it is important that we remember what the goal is. We must not allow fame, money, power or adoration to cloud the importance of physical activity, extracurricular involvement, social engagement and most importantly, safety.

Athletes around the world from all different sports should feel an obligation to step forward and stand up for something that so many of us have always held close to our identities. Sports shine a light on the darkest days. Sports are a source of strength when you feel most weak. Sports provide energy when you are most weary. They help you find wisdom when you are lost and camaraderie when you feel most alone — at least that’s what sports are supposed to be.

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We need to do a better job of protecting young athletes, because mental toughness should come from overcoming a hard practice, not overcoming assault.

Because athletics are supposed to be about athletes, not administrators.

Because practice should be an escape from the world, not somewhere you want to escape from.

Because coaches, trainers and athletic administrators are supposed to build athletes up, not tear them down.

Because athletics should teach us to be fearless, not to be afraid.

Because athletics are too important, too sacred and too valuable to be destroyed by a few people who disrespect the sanctity of sport.

Because the hardest part about practice shouldn’t be anything more than the workout itself.

Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying statistics and Chinese.