Football? Why?

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Me? I like tennis, a much more gentle and gentlemanly sport than the current favorite, football. Knocking people down takes little skill. Pounding a “down the line” passing shot that just ticks the line takes super hand-eye coordination. Notice that in football the home team fans are encouraged to hoot and scream like the lynch mob in front of the jailhouse, to drown out the quarterback’s signals. Contrast that with the silent courtesy given to the server even if you’ve got 50 bucks riding on the match against him.

So — a brief note on college football. I used to be a fan. (And the origin of that word, by the way, is not “fanatic,” but “fancier.” People arefanciers of the University of Alabama.) I used to enjoy the game, although I never saw a defensive tackle turn to the ref, shed a tear, and mumble, “I held No. 33.” But I’ve seen McEnroe overrule the ump: “No, his ball was in.”

Then I realized that while to me football is entertainment, to students it’s a distraction and corruption. Colleges are institutions supposedly dedicated to the education and maturation of youth. I assume that’s the wellspring of their nonprofit status. But football, in its current form, downplays sportsmanship. It recruits — in most cases — large, fast, violent young men who specialize in using their large, fast, violent bodies to knock down and inflict serious injury on opponents. This is not exactly a lesson in sportsmanship or human relationships. Our colleges accept this anomaly in their mission because a stultified public allows it. And in many cases a gang of alumni — who evidently got a lousy education — sponsor it. The G-d of mammon — not learning — reigns. The lure of reinforced endowments and bulging bank accounts is irresistible. Who said that colleges’ nonprofit status carries over to sports and other athletic activities? A courtroom full of lawyers could debate that for a semester or two.

Coaches make millions — much of it from my taxpayer pocket. It should be an optional item on my tax form. And after all, it seems only fair that if the school makes a profit, I should get a proportionate refund.

But money is not the main issue. (Most schools lose money on their athletic programs.) It’s the disproportionate emphasis on sports, which might involve 1 to 2% of the student body, versus the rest, who are purchasing the school’s educational products. If I’m going to be a drunken spendthrift with institutional money (and remember, nobody spends your money like it’s their own), I’d rather pay two million to the head of the engineering department than two million to the football coach.

Which skill is more important? Creating a bridge, a new concept of combustion engines, a new source of energy — or whacking an anonymous opponent, which sounds a lot like modern warfare? And don’t think that the coach tears up and shouts at the defensive tackle who breaks the leg of an enemy quarterback, “Oh, dear, you broke his leg. His incompetent backup will have to finish the game. I so wanted to go against their first team.” Such lines are never spoken on the gridiron battlefield. Sportsmanship is a rare commodity. And winning, as misspoken by some coaches, isn’t everything. You learn from losing, too. And life is full of losing as well as winning.

I only scratch the surface. But you get the idea. Why are colleges in the entertainment business? Certainly not for the benefit of their primary customers. It’s as though the municipal fire department held courses in arson, on the side.




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Comments

Steve Murphy

I play tennis. In fact, I play tennis with Ted, and can attest to his excellent hand-eye coordination. It's as good as his essays.

I am also an Alabama football fan, watching most of the games (I've heard that watching more than 25% of a team's games qualifies you as a fan). But now that Ted has pointed out the extent to which football distracts from the purpose of education, I will only watch every third game. And to avoid being called an Alabama fancier, I'm cutting back to every fifth game.

Johnimo

I'm not calling you a liar. I just think perhaps you're exaggerating a wee bit. Are you going to skip the game with A&M? Have you already watched them play? What if you've used up your every-fifth-game quota and they get into a big bowl game? I guess you can then give up games next season, right?

Go REDSKINS!

Lori Heine

My alma mater, Grand Canyon University, didn't have a football team. I don't think they do, even now. They won several national titles, in their division, in baseball and basketball -- and nobody ever seemed to mind that there was no football.

I'm of the opinion that our national sports-mania is leading millions of citizens into stupidity. They are being trained to be morons. Too many Americans take their over-simplistic, rah-team mentality into politics. Diehard Republicans and Democrats seem to follow their party the same way the sporting faithful do the Packers or the Yankees.

Tennis is great. I used to take a week of my vacation every year just to watch the U.S. Open on TV. It's the only sport I still follow with any regularity, at least partially because its fans are generally more polite and reflective. Maybe we make better libertarians.

Visitor

Baseball and hockey, that's where it's at.

The savages of pro and college football and basketball do not interest me, and I sure as Hell don't want my children thinking that those athletes are somehow "admirable" or "important" in our society.

Jon Harrison

You are 100 per cent spot on. Thank you for posting this piece.

Johnimo

If a college sports program is losing money, then it should be eliminated. Many football programs generate lots of money for their schools, and those that don't should be forsaken. While it's easy to agree that college sports should not be subsidized by taxpayers, so what? The colleges themselves should be completely privatized ... education is a huge bubble waiting to burst, and you're worried about football?

I enjoy many sports. Tennis and baseball are two of my favorites. While there's much to criticize in the pigskin patrons' fascination with football, you'd might as well jump on the PC bandwagon to eliminate native American mascots too. I suppose you think the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota shouldn't re-adopt that name after the three year hiatus from it's official use into which they've been pressured?

Football rules!

John Baker

Johnimo, you crude, unrefined spectator of the gladiators. Can't you see how awful it is? Hell, you probably do the Tomahawk Chop and cheer for the Redskins, right? While this article isn't about pro football per se, it's that sport in which the maniacal nonsense has reached its worst incarnation, where taxpayers are often conned into supporting huge subsidies for the civic arenas in which this physically maiming and life-shortening spectacle is perpetuated. The average pro lineman doesn't survive past his mid-fifties, and many players who live longer are plagued with brain damage and other debilitating injuries. All Americans will be better off when, in some enlightened future paradigm, soccer is substituted for this barbaric ballgame.

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