He Makes Sports Make Sense for Kids—and Moms, Too


Fred Bowen worked as a lawyer but never lost his love for curve balls and home runs.

By Mike Feinsilber

“I’ve been a big sports fan since I was a kid,” says Fred Bowen. “My best childhood memories are from playing Little League in the park and basketball on the playground. I can still remember home runs, bad calls, and great comebacks,” he says. So when he grew up, he became—a lawyer.

Bowen, 60, stuck with the law for 30 years. Along the way, he started writing books about sports. His 20th is about to be published. And the Washington Post asked him to write a sports column for KidsPost, its section aimed at youngsters. A posting about KidsPost ran on May 19 but I only had room for a little bit of Bowen.

Here’s an email q-and-a with this sports fan-turned-lawyer-turned-author-turned-columnist:

Q. Any stories that really elicited a big reaction from readers?

A. The biggest reaction I ever got was when I wrote on 11/17/11 that Ultimate Fighting (UFC), which was being heavily promoted on Fox-TV during the football games, was just violence dressed up as entertainment and, as such, should not be watched by kids. The story went semi-viral and I received more than 100 comments and emails from the Mixed Martial Arts community (some quite threatening, which I thought was ironic).

Other columns that got a big reaction were two columns on changing the Redskins name, a 2004 column in which I said American gymnast Paul Hamm should give back his Olympic gold medal (he won by a scoring error), and a column I did on a LL (little league) baseball game in which a team purposely walked a stronger batter to pitch to a kid who was recovering from cancer.

Q. Do you write about sports for KidsPost in a special way—do you try to avoid sports jargon?

A. I assume readers, whether young or old, are not sports fans. So I take time to explain the sports talk and terms in the column. However, I once wrote a column about how baseball phrases—such as curve ball, touch base, and ballpark figure—have found their way into every day language.

I write on big issues such as cheating or concussions as well as who will win the Super Bowl. Some of my favorite columns are about sports history. Recently I wrote about the first NFL playoff game (it was played in a Chicago ice rink following a circus) and Kenny Washington (one of the first African-American players in the NFL).

I also like to write about people who have jobs in sports who are not athletes. Last fall I interviewed James Brown, the sportscaster.

Q. When awful things happen on playing fields—injuries, fisticuffs among players, foul behavior or language — do you soft-peddle?

A. I do not avoid such subjects—I think they are wonderful teaching moments for young readers and a chance to emphasize, for example, that just because someone is good at a sport does not necessarily make them a good person. So I have written about steroids, cheating, Tiger Woods’ marital problems (I put them in terms of lying), yelling at referees, bullying in NFL locker rooms, the Zidane head-butting incident, 9/11, the Montgomery County sniper incidents, Michael Vick’s dogfighting conviction, and Sean Taylor’s murder.

Kids want to be part of these conversations. But you have to explain things carefully and in a way they can understand.

Q. Do you hear from your KidsPost readers? Do you get a sense of their disappointment when the home teams lose? I know from my own observations that kids take loses hard and “Wait ’til next year” may sound to them like “Wait a century.”

A. I get some letters and emails from kids, although I receive more from adults. That is not surprising. What kid really wants to sit down and write a letter to sportswriter at the newspaper? They would rather go outside and play sports.

I visit a lot of schools as a book author. It is clear from these visits that the kids are reading the column.

Q. Do you hear from kids about the controversy over the Redskins’ name? Is that a burning issue?

A. Most of the letters and emails I received about the Redskins name were from adults. However, I received a wonderful letter from a 13-year old girl when I first wrote about the subject in August 2006. She thanked me because she had always felt uneasy about the name even though members of her family were devoted fans. With my column, I had expressed some of what she was feeling but could not put into words.

I sometimes ask during my school visits whether the kids think the Redskins should change their name. Most of the kids—around 70 to 80 percent—think the team should not change its name.

(More recently Bowen again wrote in favor of changing the name: “The name Redskins is insulting to American Indians. Kids understand even better than some adults that there are certain words you are not supposed to use. There is a nasty name for almost every group of people….Redskins is one of those names.”)

Q. Often, since I didn’t grow up reading the sports pages, I find the language of sports leaves me out in the cold. Do you find that adults read your sports coverage in KidsPost because it is more comprehensible than what they see on the sports pages? Do you hear from parents/adult readers?

A. I have been surprised and delighted during the 14-plus years I have written the column with the number of adults who read it. I find that many adults (often moms) appreciate that I explain what is going on in sports and that I write from a perspective that is different than other sports columnists.

When I wrote about whether the Washington Nationals should sit down star pitcher Stephen Strasburg because of his recent Tommy John surgery, I wrote that the team was simply following medical advice. But I also wrote that kids’ parents and coaches should do the same when it came to the medical advice regarding kids throwing curve balls and specializing in one sport at an early age. Coaches and parents routinely ignore medical advice and kids get hurt.


  1. “He Makes Sports Make Sense for Kids—and Moms, Too” An odd sexist assumption in the headline, not reflected in or supported by any statements in the interview. “I assume readers, whether young or old, are not sports fans.”

    • Bad post above. I missed the remark: “I find that many adults (often moms) appreciate that I explain what is going on in sports and that I write from a perspective that is different than other sports columnists.” My apologies to author and headline writer.

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