It would be difficult to quantify, but I believe sports has even eclipsed music for entertainment. For entertainment value, it is much cheaper programming than other television fare.
Think about the preparation and training hours represented for a single weekend of high school and college football. What could be accomplished if even a fraction of that was applied to science or the other arts?
At the professional level, it is not just an American problem. Much of the European and Australian newspaper coverage is devoted to sports. Not American football, but their own sports and teams.
As a father, I promoted athletics to my sons because I wanted them to obtain the enduring characteristics that shaped me - teamwork, perserverance, discipline, and character. Sadly, that was not want they learned. They just picked up entertainment.
As a youngster, I wanted to build computers and rockets. My heroes were the astronauts. The new generation seems to want to either be an NFL player or just play fantasy football.
I think we need to promote new values and new heroes.