The other day I was talking with an elderly man while we were both waiting at the garage for our tires to be fixed. He told me his son is a football coach and a teacher—I don’t know what subject he teaches. He worked at a charter school for years until it went under recently. So a little while ago he worked as a substitute at a regular public school for a week. A public school here in Austin in what’s considered a good neighborhood, so it’s a reasonably well-rated school.
He coached football, and after that he taught a class. Two boys on the football team who were also in that class walked in, sat down in the back of the classroom, put their heads on their arms on the desk and closed their eyes. When the substitute coach/teacher asked them what they thought they were doing, they said they were going to take a nap, and that the regular coach always lets them take a nap after practice. Well, this guy was having none of that, so he took them over to the principal . . . who promptly let them take a nap in his office!
What does that teach kids about football? If you’re on the football team you get away with anything. The rules don’t apply to the football team. Even the principal bows to the almighty football team. (Chances are, the principal is a former football coach himself.) The kids on the team learn that, but so do the other students who observe this going on each day around them. Football players are untouchable little gods and the coach is their boss-god.
Stewart Mandel wrote an excellent article article in Sports Illustrated in which he points out that idolizing school coaches the way this country does leads to their ridiculous power within schools and universities. As everyone knows, power corrupts.
The article was his take on the latest college football scandal. It concerns the assistant coach Sandusky at Penn State who had a habit of raping young boys, which was once witnessed by a graduate student-coach, who told the head coach Paterno, who told the president of the university, who did nothing because the president is Paterno’s boss in name only.
The football coaches are so powerful in college that, if the president did nothing, it was because the coach wouldn’t have appreciated the effect the publicity would have on the football program. The president was just being used as butt-cover for Paterno, so he could later say he had notified his boss.
As if this isn’t enough, Sandusky was “working” with these young boys in his capacity as volunteer for a charity organization. The president of the university knew this. And still did nothing. So the bastard could go on raping young boys for nine more years before it finally came out.
And then something was finally done. Sandusky is now on trial and Paterno and the president of the university have both left, in disgrace as far as I’m concerned. The then-graduate student who witnessed one of the rapes five years ago still works at Penn State and must also have been aware that nothing had been done, since Sandusky was still assistant coach and still “working” with the charity organization for young boys. So he is now under scrutiny as well. At last things are as they should be. Right?
Wrong. When the much-loved Paterno was forced to leave, hundreds of students were in an uproar. Because they were furious at him and wanted to make sure his departure was accompanied by very loud booing? No, they were in an uproar because he was much-loved despite the fact that he had covered for a pedophile for years, and how dare the university fire him!
I have written before about football in school and how much education time is spent on it. I have no idea how sports ever came to play such a completely disproportionate role in American schools and colleges. Maybe I’ll research that for a later post. What I wonder even more is what it will take for schools and colleges to realize that sports have gotten out of hand.
The fact that the football coach can be the most important person at a university—a university—is just bizarre in my Dutch eyes. In Holland kids have P.E. at school, which is taught by P.E. teachers. If kids want to play a sport, like soccer, they join the local soccer club and play after school. The same goes for college students. P.E. teachers are no more important than other teachers. If anything, they feel looked down upon because P.E. isn’t academic. And sorry, all you frustrated Dutch P.E. teachers, but in my opinion that’s much healthier.