Kill High School Sports? Are You Criminal?
“Take me out to the ballgame,” has a totally different meaning when it becomes “Take the ballgame out of me,” and the repercussions could well be fatal.
Making the Case
In 2012, for Forbes, Bob Cook wrote “Ex-College Coach Explains Why High School Sports Should Die.”
In 2013, for The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley wrote “The Case Against High School Sports.”
In 2014, for the New York Times, Gary Cosby Jr. wrote “Taking Sports Out of School,” and Earl Smith wrote “High School Sports Are Out of Control.”
In 2015, for The Guardian, Matthew Jenkin wrote “Does Competitive Sport in School Do More Harm Than Good?”
And that’s not all. In 2016, in “Friday night lights out” fashion, a Nevada school board member, made a case for abolishing high school football. Russell Davis says on medical, ethical and financial grounds, “Taxpayer dollars…should not be spent on this, [and] the human brain is not designed to play the collision sport of football. We do not have an airbag between the brain and the skull.”
Patrick Hruby, in 2016 for Vice Sports, added that 1.1 million high school students play football nationwide each Fall. So many students, so much that could go wrong.
“Over the past decade,” wrote Hruby, “medical science has discovered that football is more dangerous than previously believed…”
Across the board, proponents for killing high school sports, not just football, say sports costs too much, it distracts students from academics, leads unnecessarily to long-term health problems, makes unethical use of tax-payer funds, and is in many senses discriminatory.
A View from the Bleachers
I could list article after article supporting high school sports, asserting it adds immensely to what students learn in the classroom, teaches students about the importance of life-long exercise, helps them learn the importance of team-play and competition, improves school attendance and grade earning, reduces misbehavior and serves as a positive re-direct from vices like alcohol and drugs, provides a basis for entire communities to come together and rally around, and helps students form a sense of individual and collective identity.
But I prefer to share my view from the bleachers, as a long-time teacher and school principal, about the great loss such a murdering would cause…that is, killing high school sports.
It is my observation that more than 50% of all students in every high school across this nation participate in a sport at least once during any given school year. It’s more than likely much higher than that. And well over 90% of all students in each high school support and attend various events over the course of the three basic sports seasons.
I could make the obvious case that much would change in the business of high schooling. Even though buku bucks would be saved, attendance would drop, tardies would increase, misbehavior would jump up, parents and communities would feel even more distant from what goes on behind closed classroom doors, and grade point averages would plummet.
But, I want instead to focus on the mental/emotional and social damage that would be done if high schools were to dispense of their sports programs. I have witnessed up close and personal what happens to students individually and collectively when sports are suspended, even temporarily for a year or two.
Students are devastated. They are crushed. They feel lost, even abandoned. To be sure, going to school without sports is akin to a high-stakes trauma. Sports are so embedded in U.S. schooling, and have become even more so since the early 1900s, that getting rid of such programs would be tantamount to experiencing the loss of a limb, or even multiple limbs.
Experiencing the Loss of Limb, or Even More
When they lose a limb, for whatever reason, patients experience intense physical pain, fear, apprehension, loneliness, uncertainty and sadness, says Dr. Saul Morris, in The Psychological Aspects of Amputation.
There is grieving, like never before. There will be denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, after months or even years, acceptance and grudging hope.
When it comes to the loss of a school’s sports program, students, their families, even the school staff, will deny that anything has really changed. They will act as if nothing is different…but only at first.
Then they will eventually get pissed. They will blame everyone and everything, even God Himself. After all, someone has to be to blame for such a tragic and thoughtless loss.
Students, athletes in particular, will begin to bargain with their ex-coaches, the athletic director, the school principal, even the local school board. And yes, they are likely to call on God in desperation to help move this mountain of emptiness.
When still the sports programs are not reinstated, a deep depression will set in. Many won’t be able to sleep at all, and many more just won’t wake up. Talk of doing self-harm and suicide will increase day by day.
Doctors assure us the grieving process will eventually come to an end, and we will come to terms with the loss and start living for something else. I’m not sure that will be true of this proposed loss. The repercussions could well be fatal. Minds will shut down. Hearts will just stop. The loss might well be irreplaceable, and the trauma never ending.
In my view, killing sports in high school would be a criminal act of unprecedented proportions. And neither a death-like life in prison, nor a death by tortured injection, will ever be enough.
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