High School Sports Is the Essay

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Sometimes the line was rather vague and athletes endorsed violence as a legitimate response." (Miracle, 92)

Sports promote violence because physically harming opponents is a natural part of the game, and just increasing the amount of harm enough to disable them is always a seductive option to losing. This promotion of violence would not be true if students would just play for fun -- no one would remain friends with a boy who, for example, kicked people in the shins so they couldn't run fast enough to get away in hide and seek! But a boy who obeyed his coach and "took down" another football player with enough force to keep him on the bench for the rest of the game might become a school hero if this won his team the game. Miracle and Rees explain the way that that compete the analyzing the way in which it misguides the priorities of youth. And make winning the ultimate goal. This is the key concern, of course with spirits that are "outcome-oriented, not process-oriented." (Miracle & Rees, 14)

Because sports do promote violence and endanger the ability of students to focus on schoolwork (due to making victory, not book-learning, the main priority), some have argued that the competitive environment of high school sports promotes an atmosphere of physical and cultural abuse of children. Paulo David argues that we should see youth sports in terms of human rights, and questions whether the "best interest of the child" (pp. 3) can be served when they are involved in sports. He sites a variety of threats to children from sports, including intensive practice that gives way to both physical and psychological abuse and even violence, game play which is physically dangerous, and the prevalance of performance-related drug use (such as steroids and diet pills) and eating disorders. Paulo David also seriously poses the question that many have neglected "Does intensive training qualify as child labour?" (pp. 3) and raises the specter of commercial exploitation of exceptional child athletes "put... under contract or traded between clubs for thousands of dollars without being properly informed and consulted" (David, 3) This issue of economic exploitation and dangerous recruitment will come up again in may other sources.

Sports not only promote violence and expose children to violence and danger, they also play a significant role in preserving and creating sexual and racial inequality. Miracle and Rees discuss the way that the violence and win-at-any-cost mentality of sports is used to create a certain machoism in boys, breeding a male pack mentality. They describe the way that popular culture speaks of the "character building" aspects of sports: "the 'boys-into-men' theme is prominent, but nothing is said about 'girls-into-women.' The origins of the 'sports-builds-character' myth reflects the historical reality of a society dominated by males. The belief that sport builds character is a relatively recent phenomenon..." (Miracle, 30) Even girls teams function as a validation of patriarchy, in that rather than value the function of females they attempt to force girls into a violent (and one might even say pathological) mindset of competition which self-defines as masculine. Schools often put intense focus on the success of their sports teams, minimalizing the success of activities which are dominated by females and non-macho males such as the theater, academic teams or activities, music activities, and so forth. Schools value sports to such a degree that the sports team gets pep rallies (in which females are celebrated only by being sexualized "cheer leaders" supporting the males) while the yearbook editors and photographers, the bake-sale leaders, the debate team victors, the theater kids and all the other non-physical participants in the school go virtually unnoticed. This creates a false value system of masculine brawn over female (and asexual) brains.

Just as importantly, the focus on competitive sports promotes racism. This may at first seem like an odd assertation, since in many schools the majority of the good players are black and thus the school is actually giving positive attention to black students. However, this is actually the precise problem which competitive sports breeds for African-Americans. Black students find themselves pigeon-holed as nothing more or less than potential athletes, and their intellectual and personal contributions are ignored or minimalized. The focus on sports, and the fact that more black students do succeed in sports than white students do, encourages black students to treat academics as "white" and sports as "black." However, only a tiny handful of students from the entire nation (much less than one per high school class!) will ever be able to get a professional job as an athlete. Therefore black students are being encouraged to focus on entertainment of the white students rather than being encouraged to pursue learning which will make it possible for them to get real careers and a serious place in society. The same is true in colleges! An entire generation of black students is being seduced by sports to ignore the actual bounty of experience and learning in schools. As African-American activist and writer Hoberman explains: "African-American's attachment to Sport has been diverting interest away from the life of the mind for most of this century... wildly unrealistic ambitions in black children (an improbably number of black boys expect to become professional athletes)... The exploitation of its... children by a white-dominated sports establishment." (pp. 4)

He explains that blacks are trapped by "the world of athleticism" (Hoberman, 4) and that this is the result "of a long collaboration between blacks seeking respect and expanded opportunity and whites seeking entertainment, profit, and forms of racial reconciliation that do not challenge fundamental assumptions about racial difference..." In many ways, this seems intensely positive for the black community, for "athletic achievement has served the clan pride of African-Americans... To the point where it is embraced as a foundation of black identity..." (Hoberman, 5) However, he explains that in becoming the foundation of black identity, it works to keep black culture from achieving heights of culture and economic success.

The issue of racial exploitation is also dealt with as part of a larger financial exploitation in Wetzel and Yaeger's book Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed, and the Corruption of America's Youth. They explain the way that sports have become for more competitive at the all levels of school, and particularly high school, since the time of Michael Jordan because corporations --particularly shoe companies like Adidas and Nike, but also companies that deal in sports drinks and other produces-- have been intensely pursuing young children for future contracts. "Now a young player can be slotted for a shoe company... As young as twelve years old." (Wetzel & Yaeger, 4) in some ways, of course, individual children benefit from being so pursued. If they hit it lucky, they may be wealthy for life. However, many more will be harmed. Those who fail to make the 'cut,' so to speak, will find that they have emerged from years of frenzied game-playing without any skills for the real world. Many will find that they will not even have the opportunity to really learn even in college, for this corruption goes so far as try to influence youth into choosing colleges based not on academic or athletic merit but on commercial interests, "steering high school players toward colleges that were affiliated with the swoosh." (Wetzel & Yaeger, 26) This means that many young players so steered will end up choosing a school that is not good for them personally, and still most will not end up going into profession ball games. In fact, even many professional players do not have lifetimes earnings which are higher than any other professional (such as a business man, realtor, lawyer, etc.) because career lengths are often remarkably short and opening salaries for players who are not superstars is often quite moderate, with low salaries around $300 thousand a year (the average for basketball is between $2-3 million, however this takes into account super-star salaries upwards of $20 million) and average playing time under 5 years. Certainly that's enough for a wise investor and spendthrift to retire on, but if children are not well educated such wisdom may elude them in their early years and by the time it arrives be too late. The point here is that as corporations and schools spur thousands of children to the pursuit of ballgames (to the expense of their education), knowing perfectly well that less than one in several thousand will ever make a cent from pro-ball, they are destroying the lives of all those gamey children left behind.

Now, all of this is not to say that organized sports, even competitive organized sports, have no advantages to the student. There is something to be said for the pride which students take in their successes, and for the social acceptance thus made available to (violent) young people who might not otherwise be able to figure out how to relate to their…[continue]

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