I was raised in Nebraska where American college football rules Saturday afternoons for three months a year.

While that seeding of false hope and expectation in the score of a college football game can crush community pride if there’s a loss and not a win, I am even more offended and astonished at a trend, particularly in the state of Texas, where high school footballers — children, really — are falsely imbued by adults who should be vested in protecting their welfare, and not religiously counting wins and losses, with a fake significance and a godliness that is inhuman, abusive and punishing.

How can a community pressure a group of children into winning, at any cost, to save adult social grace, foment bragging rights and help in the creation of a surface social visage that is to be envied, but never imitated?

It is unfortunate and offensive that high school football in so many communities — in Texas and beyond — has taken on the wages of life and death. Where is the human caring in pressing children into keeping score so early in their young lives while building up their hopeful success by the Friday night rites of injecting the unearned inflation of ego without atonement? I understand there is a rich history in high school football games that used to bring simple joy and entertainment to a community no matter the score.

I argue the joy of playing high school football in the 1900s has been lost today when it is more important to kill the other team than to win with honor and grace. Today’s game is all about creating stars out of children who then inevitably crash to the ground in a fiery heap when they are injured or when the big college scholarship is not offered along with the high school diploma or GED. Total community abandonment follows.

Those “failed” children — at 18 years of age — are left alone to relive their glory days and to somehow try to come to terms with their sudden ineptitude in losing the unrequited admiration and adoration of a community that they never quite realize existed only to build them up to hollow them out for the greater score — and the leftover is the castoff shell of the boy in the soul of the forgotten man.

11 Comments

  1. I find myself wondering what changed and what was the catalyst for that change.
    I have a son who competes in the unusual sport of unicycling. Last year we were in Switzerland for an international competition (it is bigger than it sounds–roughly 1000 competitors from 45 countries).
    One thing I noticed was that the Asians (competitors from China, Korea and Japan) seemed to be alone in placing honor above winning. So there must be some cultural factors at work, but I am at a loss to discover what they are or recapture them.
    Excellent article.

  2. Hi Bill!
    I think the change was money. 50 years ago football was a sport that built character and friendships. Now football is Big Money. Many major universities have big time football programs that earn a lot of money and without the team on the field the university would suffer in reputation and international exposure.
    So the future stars on college campuses are born on the high school gridiron and the parents and coaches and friends and fans want cling to fame and money that is in the offering for a bright high school star. The child then become the means to and end instead a boy to be formed into a man.
    Playing football with your friends on the playground was a great growing up ritual I would never forsake for anything — and the best games were always those in which no score was kept. We played until we were tired and then we all went home winners.
    I like your observation about Asian values. My hope is their cultural rituals will rub off on us as shining example instead of us rubbing their away sheen. My feeling, however, is crass is always easier than class.

  3. Hi arin —
    I’m sure there are some kids who play the sport for the love of the game — but when the off-field pressures become too much to bear, and they have nothing to do with creating character in winning and losing, then we must begin to question those influential motivations.

  4. Hi arbarclay12 —
    I think we may be treading in uncomfortable territory in making these young players idols for cameras and broadcast television. What’s the point of it? Civic pride? Fame? Getting into a better school? Going right to Pro ball?
    Children and teenagers need quiet and protecting so they can be free to wonder and ponder.
    They do not yet need unfiltered exposure to the world — that never-ending task will come soon enough and we can make them worldly without making them into performing monkeys for profit that does not directly benefit their immediate needs.