Monday, October 14, 2013

The Case Against High School Sports

My brother is a practicing psychologist for whom the concept of balance is important. In a world with so many things out of balance, how does one find that golden mean with regard to issues such as anxiety, use of leisure time, giving, anger, industriousness, etc. There are a lot of things in life that are harmless, or can even be good, until they’re out of balance.

As I was passing through the Dayton Airport Friday I picked up the October issue of The Atlantic, in part because of Amanda Ripley’s feature highlighted on the cover, "How Sports Are Ruining High School." The story resonated with me because of a comment made by a retired teacher in our local high school district a few years ago. He said that in ten years they had not hired a new teacher who wasn’t also able to serve as an athletic coach.

Here's the intro to the article: “The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student—unlike most countries worldwide. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings?” How far do we lag behind? The U.S., according to Ripley, ranks 31st in international math tests.

She cites an economic study in which one public high school in the northwest was spending $328 per math student and $1,348 per cheerleader.

The article is sympathetic to the benefits of sports, including exercise, sportsmanship and perseverance, as well as school spirit. But at what price?

As school budgets get ever tighter, we see arts and music teachers being squeezed out altogether. But the marching band plays on. And taxpayers foot the bill for the stadiums they play in.

Speaking of taxpayers picking up the tab, the same issue of The Atlantic carried an excellent piece of investigative reporting on how the NFL fleeces taxpayers in all these stadium deals. Owners hold whole cities hostage unless they're willing to fork over the cash.

But we need our sports fix.

Confession: I'm a Browns fan. I also follow Major League Baseball during the playoffs. The question I'm raising is how do we find balance in all these things? Is NFL Football our modern equivalent of the Roman empire's bread and circuses?

Actually, the Bible has something to say about some of this. The author of Ecclesiastes, well aware our burdens and hardships, wrote "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." (NIV) Or as the King James Version puts it, "Eat, drink and be merry."

The entertainment industry, of which sports is a part, does serve a purpose. There was probably an amateur stand up comedian in every village in Europe at one time. Olympic games of a sort are as old as the Greeks. I'm only trying to open a dialogue on this matter of balance.

Meantime, life goes on... all around you.

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