I apologize in advance for my column this week. I had a very bad weekend, and the worst thing about it is nothing bad actually happened to me.
OHS’s playoff game slipped away from them, and Texas Tech got absolutely humiliated by Oklahoma. And none of you care, but Atlanta knocked Carolina out of first place in the NFC South.
Odessa and Tech weren’t alma maters. I graduated from Permian and never even sniffed Lubbock when college application season came around. Nor did I gamble on any of these games. I just invested myself emotionally to a degree that the losses have stayed with me, and I’ll feel a lingering sense of disappointment all week.
Clearly, I care too much about football, but sometimes it works out well. My giddiness about the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss lasted through most of the summer.
(“Hey bartender, who’s that guy sitting down next to the girl I bought a drink for?”
“Oh. Well at least the Patriots went 18-1.”)
I’m not alone in this – although to this extent, I may be – because there are some very valid reasons why sports are so compelling, and why the excitement and drama of football have made it the national obsession, to borrow Sal Paolantonio’s phrase.
That’s part of why an e-mail forwarded to me that pretended No Child Left Behind was being applied to high school football was a very effective comparison. The unfairness of it, nevermind federal government involvement, was plainly apparent. It’s a satire, not intended to be closely dissected, but at another level I take it at face value.
I once heard it said that if people followed their politicians half as well as they did baseball players, our democracy would become perfect. Well if people cared half as much about education as they did football, our nation would approach perfection.
This is a common complaint, I know, but when LBJ Elementary (which I actually did attend) lost to Reagan for the sixth-grade championship, I was sincerely disappointed. Certainly, many people were justifiably saddened by OHS’s playoff loss, as well. But how many outside the school system (how many inside the school system) were upset by the academic performance of any school in the district, not just on government standards but actual learning? How many parents who wouldn’t stand to see their child on second-string are content that their child isn’t taking AP classes, not earning – and I stress earning – all A’s, not studying hard enough for the next exam?
Because it is plainly ridiculous to mandate that every high school football team make the playoffs and win the championship, or that every kid have the same skills at all times, but no one would claim West Texans have any biological athleticism to succeed at sports, at yet for several decades, it seemed true. Or if not all sports, generally, then football specifically.
It’s amazing what a good program can consistently accomplish with average people who are driven to accomplish great things and supported materially and emotionally by a community who heaps rewards on their success.
It isn’t an either-or between academics and sports: the valedictorian of my graduating class was a first-string football player. And obviously, debates and midterms aren’t compelling spectator events. Even so, we should care as much about substantive things to push and enthrall our children into working hard at the things that will benefit them – and us – in the future. We should get a vicarious thrill out of what they do between the desks at least as much as between the sidelines.
And we don’t, because most of us don’t care.
I certainly don’t care. For all this, I can’t make myself care. But I do wish the matriculations of school children enraptured me as much as matriculations down the field.
And that field goal hadn’t gone wide left.