By Ken Reed
Two interesting articles about youth and high school football were published in the last week.
Each of them looked at the growing football cultural war from a variety of perspectives.
The first piece, Patrick Hruby’s well-researched treatise, “Friday Night Lights Out,” looks at the allure of the game for players, coaches and fans and then proceeds to lay out the evidence as to why high school football should be abolished. (The research evidence in favor of abolishing high school football due to the game’s dangers to the human brain is increasingly overwhelming.)
The second article, written by Ken Belson of the New York Times, tells the story of youth football in Marshall, Texas. Two private youth football clubs popped up this year after the town started to cut back on youth and school football programs. The seventh grade team was dropped due to safety concerns. The Pop Warner program folded due to a shortage of players following all the national attention on football-related concussions. And the local Boys & Girls club dropped tackle football due to litigation concerns.
Both of them are well worth the read for people on both sides of the issue.
Actually, there’s more than one issue involved. One, should kids, 18 and under, be playing a sport that’s hazardous to their brains, especially since those brains are still in the developmental stage? And two, should taxpayer dollars be used in public schools to fund a sport that endangers young brains rather than enhancing them?
It’s not really a question about banning youth football. This is a free country and if parents want to put their kids in tackle football programs that’s their choice. (Although, ethically, there’s the issue about whether adults should be placing children in an activity that’s dangerous to their brains before those kids reach the legal age of consent for decision-making.) Private football clubs, like the one in Marshall, undoubtedly would spring up if middle school and high school football was abolished.
Another issue, beyond the brain safety topic, centers around what the bang for the buck is for public school football from an education perspective. Football’s an expensive activity for a relatively small percentage of the student body. And research has shown that it impairs academic performance. On the other hand, things like music programs, daily physical education classes, and intramural sports programs — which engage a much higher percentage of the student population — have been shown to enhance academic performance.
And if it’s character traits like hard work, perseverance, discipline and teamwork that one’s concerned about, well, those traits can certainly be developed in other sports or in music programs.
“It’s by far the most expensive sport,” says John Gerdy in Hruby’s piece. Gerdy is a former college All-American basketball player and author of Air Ball: American Education’s Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics.
“So much time, effort, emotion, and energy is spent on it, too. But we have to ask a fundamental question about what kind of return we’re getting. Football heaps a tremendous amount of resources on a few elite kids, and pushes everyone else to the sidelines to watch. And we’re doing this in one of the most obese nations on the planet!
“As parents, teachers, board members, we have to ask: Is football meeting all the justifications that we have for it? And if not, then what is our responsibility?”
It’s a question that, as a nation, we shouldn’t ignore. In fact, it demands some serious reflection, not avoidance.
These two articles are a good place to start.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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