Sports, especially the most popular team sports have become such an inseparable part of society that they have become a problem. Millions of kids grow up with schools and families that seem to value their athletic skills above all else. This is a strange situation considering that sports have no practical use in adult life. It is a person’s decision if they wish to spend a large amount of their time playing a game, but this should not be done in institutions of education. How can hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions be spent on a football program alone when it has nothing to do with the educational mission of the school? Exorbitant spending on sports is not just impractical or a nuisance. It is the outright graft of public funding. Even if a majority of citizens approve of elaborate high school sports programs, that does not change the fact that it undermines everything that a school stands for. To make things worse, almost every school puts aside several large spaces for no function other than playing games. It would be no better than building a new video game arcade on the school grounds. Even though sports in schools are rarely challenged by taxpayers, there has been some discontent and correspondingly there are several main arguments that I have encountered in support of sports in schools so far.
- Promotes Physical Fitness
- Builds Character, Promotes Values
- Sports Scholarships, Make the big leagues.
- Sports require use of the mind. Teaches strategy.
- Sports make money for the school. Adds prestige to the school. School spirit.
The very first is perhaps the most popular and the closest to legitimacy. It is true that sports can vastly increase physical fitness, but this does not give them full justification. They are still games that incidentally result in a higher level of fitness. Sports at the same time can have detrimental effects or limited effect because of their overwhelming emphasis on a limited set of activities. Wrestlers, for example, become so desperate to stay in a particular weight class that they will starve and even dehydrate themselves, compromising their health. Athletes in a number of sports take questionable chemical supplements that are expensive and that can have ill effects in the long term. All this grows from an obsession to become obsessively good at some obsessively repetitive activity such as throwing a ball through a hoop. It is exactly this sort of highly specialized repetition that regularly results in long term injuries to joints, cartilage, and ligaments. In sports, social status and and even self esteem hang in the balance. Sports are not about fitness, they are about winning some game. If increased fitness results from it or becomes necessary, so be it. If breaking the body down becomes necessary, so be it.
For many people, sports are synonymous with fitness and it is true that some of the fittest people participate in a sport. However, they are still just playing a game, just like any child, no matter what feats they can boast. The central goal of true fitness is simply to maximize the health and physical potential of the body. Nothing more. Sports in the most traditional sense are not the the most efficient or effective way to achieve this goal. Soccer increases cardiovascular fitness, but a soccer practice takes at least two hours and is filled with extra socializing and highly specific drills. One of the players could have ran 6-7 miles, and easily returned in less than an hour. However, a high school soccer player spends so much time learning how to kick a ball that he might conceivably have trouble even making that distance. He or she spends hours a week as an athlete doing activities which have no or relatively little benefit to fitness. A normal high school soccer team probably takes up a sizable piece of land on or near the school grounds and requires a sizable amount of money for coaching, uniforms, and training equipment. If the players ran several miles a day instead, they would require almost no resources on the part of the school and would be much more fit while devoting less than half the time that they used to. The saved money could become a contribution to a fund for new academic buildings on the newly opened space.
One might ask what I would replace sports teams with. I would propose the concept of high school fitness groups devoted directly to attaining cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, healthy body composition, and increased flexibility. If there were coaches in such a program, they wouldn’t put together play books, they would teach their students how to care for their bodies in the most effective way possible. Perhaps even education in proper nutrition and diet could be included. A serious and beneficial program like this is what is worthy of being included in an educational institution. And I’m not talking about the lukewarm and half-hearted P.E. classes all across this nation. A fitness group, just like a sport, would be a voluntary extracurricular activity but each participant would compete against themself rather than others. Through such an approach, this system could avoid one of the great pitfalls of sports; its tendency to include only a handful of the most physically talented individuals. Fitness groups would give encouragement to every student to improve and maintain their bodies through activities such as weight training, running, and biking.
Then there’s the next argument; that sports, particularly team sports ‘build character’ and somehow instill ‘values’ into a new generation. This entire concept is as irrational as it is vague. I’ve never read or heard any solid explanation of what these ideas mean, but the best definition I could give just from observation is that sports have some untouchable essence of greatness that is conferred onto those who participate in them. And, those who didn’t participate don’t have an understanding of this almost magical experience. Though criticisms coming from people like me who have never been involved in a team sport might be well intentioned, we just don’t get it. This argument is an all time favorite because one can just recite it like an incantation and feel as though they have proved their point. It is an all purpose seal. Even if I had played team sports and had been the best player on the team, a sports person could simply claim I’m just one poor man inexplicably cut off from that undefinable spirit.
Somehow, sports are supposed to mark a passage, a transition from boy to man and girl to woman, a way to prepare a young person for “success.” In some nameless way, learning to play a game accomplishes all these things. Some would try to give an explanation by claiming that it teaches a kid to be competitive. In what? The kid was playing a game for hours every week rather than learning real skills to make him or her competitive in the marketplace. A raw and primal understanding of competition won’t help someone write a resume or perform a job well. It could concievably aid in giving someone a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. This would most likely just result in a person being alienated and disliked.
Others would try to explain the magic of sports by saying it teaches a child leadership, a time honored tradition, an ethic of the athlete, an ability to be gracious in defeat and magnanimous in victory. And somehow, the playing field is the only place where these values can be learned in their entirety. Therefore it follows in this course of reasoning that people who didn’t participate in organized sports as a kid are somehow lacking in their “moral fiber.” This right here just cuts it.
I am tired of people trying to justify bloated sports programs with sentiments about an intangible and mystical element. There’s nothing special or glorious about going outdoors to play a game. Not even if people are watching you. People could just as easily exhort the magic of video games to squeeze money for a Halo team from educational institutions. If anyone came up with a financial plan involving such expenditures, however, no one would take it seriously. A Halo team would not even be given a moment’s consideration. But with eight controllers plugged into a video game console, team playing is possible and therefore the players will be educated in teamwork, both in and out of the game, right? The players will also win and lose, teaching them how to accept any outcome gracefully. Some of them will excel beyond the others and thereby be trained as great leaders. Most people might disagree with me on these suppositions, but I can claim that there is a certain glorious spirit embodied in the controllers that only a true player can understand and therefore I am still right and my critics wrong no matter what they might say. Then to add insult, I imply that my long hours of playing have given me a sort of aura of greatness completely beyond their limited comprehension.
To me, the use of this argument demonstrates a lack of thought, honesty, or both. It is a viewpoint that is inherently full of conceit and condescension toward any who might disagree and allows no room for discussion. When someone uses this argument, I can no longer take them seriously. If that’s the best sales pitch they can offer as a reason to spend huge amounts of public funds on sports, they should be laughed at for coming up with such a ridiculous spending plan.
The next argument is that playing sports can get players a sports scholarship or if the athlete tries super hard, a ticket to the big leagues. This belief is technically true. It certainly is possible, but only a few of the very best at any one school would ever have a chance. And then, as most people know, only a few of even that elite group could ever make the pros. There is no way anyone could ever argue that sports are an efficient way to send people to college. And even if it was a practical method to get to college, it would still be counter to the purpose of an educational institution.
Colleges should not offer sports scholarships. Why are they paying to have students come to their school for reasons other than the academic? It doesn’t make sense and it shouldn’t be done. It’s the same graft of funds if a public university is using tax dollars to bring someone to the college for ridiculous reasons. It doesn’t matter whether they’re paying for someone to come play play golf or checkers. It has nothing to do with why the university is there.
A common justification for sports scholarships is the fact that critics like me forget that ‘athletes can be smart too.’ The sports supporter then points out that some athletes have a perfect GPA while competing in a sport at a high level. If the people in question are so intelligent and hard-working, I admire them. However, I was talking about sports scholarships. If this money was instead diverted to grants handed out for academic achievement, these students who happen to be athletes would have been rewarded as they deserved for being intellectuals. If they happen to play games on the side, fine. That’s beside the point and should have no importance. I think these people are being shown respect if they are honored for their real achievements. These talented individuals are denigrated when they are tossed money for their skill in athletics. Certainly these students are multi-faceted individuals for whom sport is one small corner of their lives. Finally, in the instance that an applicant to a university is a good athlete but a poor student, he or she is identical to any other poor student. The concept should be straightforward and intuitive. Let good students in while handing them money and don’t let bad students in. Where is the disconnect?
Not only are sports scholarships difficult to get, they reward smart and determined students for their recreational activities and provide a corridor for students who have no interest in learning to enter the school. So, if anything, this topic is potentially an excellent justification for sports not to exist in either high school or college.
There is still the claim that playing a sport works the mind the same as any other academic pursuit. Those who argue from this point say that players learn strategy. Once again, it’s not a thing that can be learned just from books. One has to go out there and do it with grit and resolve. In this mode of thought, the athlete is the general who goes on campaign through mud and snow, conquering his rivals while the passive student is the pathetic armchair general who obsesses over how battles long past might have turned out if he or she had been in command. For some reason, though, I’ve never heard any explanation as to how any strategy in sports relates to academics or any other skill. The usual approach is to say ‘It teaches strategy’ and stop abruptly right there. How does following coach’s instructions teach any appreciable amount of strategy, let alone any type that is useful outside of the game? Strategy and planning aren’t even usually a player’s duty. How are the athletes to get any intellectual stimulation when their coach happened to have a good game plan? If it is such a great concern that students learn strategy, have them play chess, a game that is closely associated with academic skills. Most schools already have a chess club. Cancel sports, buy more chess boards, and the former athletes having been trained in ‘strategy’ should hold their own. Once again, expenditures would be cut while increasing effectiveness. However, the purpose of the argument in question is ultimately not to prove that sports teach strategy, but rather to provide a quick, convenient excuse for the misuse of tax money. Even if sports did teach strategy, the chess program would still be only a fraction of the cost.
Still, there is the assertion that sports provide money to the school, are essential to a certain prestige, and foster ‘school spirit.’ It is true that some sports programs turn a profit for the school but these are few. A sports program is almost always a money losing venture because the goal is to spend money until victory is achieved and then spend even more money to assure more victory. Sports teams are not typically thought of as fundraising mechanisms. They are usually promoted as an end unto themselves.
In the instance that a sports program is profitable, it ought to be treated as an off campus activity like any other investment scheme.(should the best paperweight salesmen be semi-students living on campus if the school makes money investing in a paperweight company?) If a college wants to hire people to play a game for profit, what are the players doing on campus as students? They ought to be outside contractors brought in as entertainers. To include them as students and even shining examples of the scholastic model makes a mockery of the school. It would be equally ludicrous to promote master paperweight merchants as ‘model students’.
Whether they turn a profit or not, these teams are touted as a means of filling the trophy case and giving prestige to a school. Supposedly, no one will take a school seriously if its sports programs are not state of the art. A school with poor sports programs somehow suffers a lack of ‘excellence.’ The essence of school spirit oozes right down the drain in a time of constant defeat, causing the entire school to became disheartened and less effective. Supposedly, school loyalty becomes non-existent and the student body loses any sense of unity. Somehow, the extra-curricular activities of a handful of the students are thought to give meaning to the entire student body. Thus it is necessary to devote a huge portion of the budget to sports.
I certainly believe that a school is in need of improvement if winning at sports is the main thing to boast about. In this case, the solution is to eliminate them straightaway and bolster academics. Then maybe the school will start speaking of outstanding scholastic achievements instead of wasting time and money on exorbitantly expensive games. If there must be an idea like school spirit, let it center around activities that are related to the purpose of the school. Besides, it is simply moronic to suggest that the entire educational system will somehow be degraded without pep rallies and other typical school spirit activities. School spirit. What an interesting phrase among an already large book of ambiguous terms used by sports supporters. I have entered the phrase into google and always the term is linked to sporting events and cheering for the school mascot. What does the outcome of a basketball game have to do with the spirit of the school? Since a school exists to teach, wouldn’t this ethereal force be embodied by the best students? What do sports have to do with anything educational? It seems at this point that the spirit of the school, the driving purpose, is a different or even opposite idea from school spirit. If this is so, then eliminating sports teams would not cause any great trauma. In fact, the school would enjoy great benefits.
Sports supporters can get away with their flimsy reasoning because their position is not really challenged. None of the arguments I’ve ever encountered have any merit, but the school system seems to be stuck as it is right now. A majority of parents, administrators, and students appear to support or at least accept the ubiquitous presence of sports in schools. However, this is irrelevant because there is a clearly stated mission for all schools and almost always for each individual school. I have visited some school websites and every one so far has had a mission statement, not one of which has had a word specifically regarding sports. Are these statements there just to sound good and not actually apply to real life? If schools are going to ignore their mission, why even bother with the hypocrisy. Why don’t they just call themselves ____ high school and sports training camp? Because it would be a blatant acknowledgment of the true situation. People just might look at the sign on the front of the school/athletics training camp and try without success to reconcile these two elements.
If some parents believe sports are so important for their children, they should be willing to pay for membership in a privately owned league. They have been allowed for too long to get a free ride from the educational system at the expense of everyone else. Their desires not only challenge the fundamental mission of every school but infringe on the rights of every tax payer who does not believe precisely as they do. Furthermore, schools have made themselves into free multi-million dollar training facilities for professional sports. Scouts regularly draw upon the talent developed in the plethora college and high school programs. Professional sport is a lucrative business, so it is foolish as well as criminal for public schools to offer any free services. I am no great fan of professional sports but I have nothing against them. If people want to pay their own money to see athletes, fine. However, I’m sure these clubs would be averse to having to spend more money on their own extra-scholastic farming systems. After all, professional teams have been given free goodies for no reason for so many years that they by now feel entitled. Professional sports organizations would probably do everything they could to protect their interests in schools, but once these programs were eliminated, any resulting problems would be dealt with. There would probably be drastic expansion of farming leagues for every sport and these alone would successfully supply the pros with their much desired talent. If there was any resulting decline in pro sports, too bad. They would have lost access to a resource that shouldn’t have been available in the first place.