I am a hippie and hippies and football don’t mix.
Ok, so there’s a bit more to it than that. But it’s football season and the football craze is driving me nuts. So here’s why I will always be on the outside going, “WHY OH WHY must it be this way?”
Disclaimer: I realize that many sports and activities can qualify for many of the problems football has. Football just gets most of the attention in America, so it gets attention in my post.
1. My personal history with football. My family was not into it, but I lived in a podunk town with one school. People acted like football was the only sport. Nobody showed up for soccer, or track, or even the cross country team when it won state, but they would pack the stands for our very pathetic team who I believe had a total of ten wins the entire time I attended school there, and at least two years where they never won a single game. There was a dance just for football, there were cheeerleaders just for football, and I just did not get it. I showed up for a football game. It was so incredibly long. The time on the clock did not mean how much time until the game was over. You couldn’t tell who anybody was because they were covered in football gear. The culture around the football players and cheerleaders at our school was just sad. I’ll get more into this with point two, but for now I’ll say: the cool guys played football and the hot girls were cheerleaders. They got social status, even if the football team sucked and the cheerleaders were a drama pool of backstabbing girls who delighted in not allowing those they deemed unworthy on the cheerleading team. Our school had to have a ‘dance team’ for the girls who were deemed too unpopular, ugly, or fat to be on the cheerleading team. I only wish I was joking, and no, I never tried to join either. I just watched from afar with horror and shock and pushed my glasses back up my nose. I’ve the general impression from my conversations with other people that this is pretty common high school culture. Hopefully your school was different. Our football coach was also the art teacher, and I took art. We had a pretty broke school, so guess which interest always had their financial needs met and guess where the clay kiln was constantly breaking down and pencils running out and several mentions of being cut or reduced to save money?Just sayin.
Later I had the joy of going to a private small college. There was no football there. It was awesome. Not just because of the lack of football, but because it was an awesome school. However, I did notice and greatly benefit from the fact that academics and sports were separated. We didn’t have people skipping class to go play sports. There wasn’t people wearing their uniforms everywhere. We did see soccer players wearing their uniforms to dinner, but we saw so much of the same people doing normal things it wasn’t the sole distinction of their persons. When I think back at high school, the football people were the football people and there wasn’t much else to them because that’s all they displayed to people.
2. So here I have to say something that will always make me uncomfortable with school sports at the high school level: the competition between athletics and academics in the educational realm. In the social realm, it tends to cause polarity with students. Sports are seen as something more socially lifting than being academic. People who excel at being academic are generally unpopular students. This may be due in part to the fact that sports drastically compete with a high schooler’s limited resources: especially time. Most sports have practice daily or at least three times a week and a game on the weekend. Many sports have games on school nights as well. Games mean traveling, and the smaller the school you are in, the longer you may travel to get to a game. And is there any environment less conducive to effective studying than a bus jam-packed with exciting high school students? Maybe in a tornado.
So a student wakes up, goes to school until three, stays at school for practice, then after practice it’s dinnertime. After dinnertime there’s a couple of hours before the student has to go to bed in order to get enough rest for their still-growing and changing body. That couple of hours has to cram in homework and family time. It’s very hectic. It’s common for teens to have a harder time connecting to their family members due to growing feelings of independence. It happened to me. I got involved in sports and I grew away from my family. Then I left for college and I had some regrets of my last years at home being spent out involved in high school activities.
So, you have it being harder for sports students to get regular schoolwork done, and grades suffer. You add the social stigma of being smart=being a dork and you have a growing division between sports and academics. The kid looks at the world around him. He sees Americans glorifying football and other sports. What’s he going to do? He’s going to squeak by, getting good enough grades to play football.
3. Being good at football (and other sports) have negligible use outside of the game. Being good at football will not help you get a job. It won’t help you do well at that job. It won’t help you relate to your spouse, or raise your child the right way. It won’t give you wisdom with how to deal with you handle your finances. It won’t help you write better. There is very little value at being good at sports, except at being good at sports. Unless you are extremely good you aren’t going to make money on it. There is some fitness value, but that can be acquired easily through non-sports culture. If they are very good at football in school they may make a scholarship. But that’s only good because education is valuable, and if they’d focused more on education, family life, or things that are actually important in real life, they’d be better prepared anyway. The football business has become part of the entertainment business in America. Football players are glorified, and the obsession with football is easy to see. Sometimes you get lucky, and go far. But most of the time you get severely injured at some point and you become useless as far as football goes. Then there is the rest of life, which football has very little to do with.
The high school sports culture keeps very little of this reality in mind. Games are seen as extremely important in the life of a high schooler, his parents, his coaches. Games are something parents can come see. When a kid plays football people stand in the bleachers and cheer. The cheerleaders sing, the band comes and plays, everybody is around the football team glorifying them. Game results are posted in the paper. Most of a kid’s waking hours not spent in school are spent on sports (and often school is missed to get to those faraway games). So much of high school life is focused on something that has very little value in a person’s long term-life, and things that do matter suffer due to the high importance of sports causing neglect in other areas. Spending time with your family and spending time learning in an educational setting will help prepare you for life-and sports robs from that.
4. Spinning off from #3-Americans worship football. People who have never played football and never will play football worship football. They watch it for hours in a row on television, know the names of coaches and players and have strong opinions about what goes on even though it has no actual impact on their lives aside from football. People travel to games (clogging up freeways and city parking) dress in team colors, and yell at the football players, cheering the successes and mourning the downfalls. They spite the opposing team. It’s a huge business. I think all you have to do to sell something to some people is to put it in their team colors. If you drive down 1-5 there is an OSU-colored manufactured home for sale right next to the freeway.
Do I understand enjoying something? Oh yes. Do I think we should spend tons of time and money on things that have no real value but entertainment? Nope. There’s moderation, and I’m sure there are football watchers who exercise it. But American culture is very good at promoting its values and it shows everywhere, even to those of us who don’t watch TV. And where did this all start? High school football games. Fed by people who worship football, who continue to influence high school students. The students see the worship and work to become the worshiped to their own eventual losses.
5. Football can cause some extreme and scary injuries. They wear a lot of padding, but still, the general wear and tear on the body is rather extreme compared to most other sports. There are a lot of brain injuries and even deaths.
6. All that gear is expensive. Stadiums are expensive. A school’s football program is costly. Is football really worth it?
So overall, football has a high cost, low benefits, and people have given it inflated importance. I will never get the football craze. I understand my boys may want to play football one day. We’ll deal with that when we come to it and I can’t be so foolish to say, “We will never” because like I said some people can exercise caution and moderation. By nature, simply playing a sports game is not wrong and has many healthy benefits. I believe practicing 3-5 times a week and having 1-2 games a week is ridiculous and the idea of shuffling my kids around to various activities and never seeing them except at dinner and Sundays sounds ridiculous and unhealthy. If we homeschool and we spend most of what would normally be spent with them in school together, that makes it a little more graspable. But there’s no way to forecast what our lives will be like.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I played on sports team sophomore through senior year. Soccer twice and cross country once. I can’t really think of much useful that I’ve used from those activities since then. I participated in drama club in all four years of school, usually one or two plays a year. But I’ve actually found the literature exposure and public speaking skills (both confidence and verbal skills) to be very useful in many life areas. I also got to interact with students of various ages in being creative with acting, set building, costume use, and even choreography. But do you know what my most valued activity I found as a high school student? Volunteering at a children’s camp! I’ve used skills I learned there in just about every area of my life since I graduated high school. So when my kids get bigger, we may do sports here or there, but I hope to get some good old serving and loving practice with all of them!