Deford column: The three Rs and S-A-M
By Frank Deford
School sports surely mean more in the United States than in any other country.
For small-town America, as Buzz Bissinger's revealing book, Friday Night Lights, showed, sports teams even become a significant part of a community's identity. In the U.S., we don't have many sports clubs, where children in many other countries participate in athletics.
And now that so many American school districts -- even whole states -- are facing reductions in school funding, more and more, it is athletics that are being cut back.
Sometimes now, public school sports survive only by the grace of private donations, from parents and fans. Of course, it's not just sports that are prime prospects for elimination, but also art and music. After all, sports, art and music, the S-A-M of school -- what I call the SAM activities -- are known as extracurriculars . . . . emphasis on the extra. They're the logical expenses to slash before you take down the educational basics: readin', writin', arithmetic -- not to mention science . . . and maybe history and geography, if anybody cares about them anymore.
It's impossible not to argue with this rational, but it's also true that when children who are artistic or musical are denied that opportunity in school, their young personal loss eventually not only robs them of developing their talent, but diminishes us as a culture. And to knock out athletic exercise at a time when childhood obesity is an absolute epidemic could be just as damaging for the health of the nation. David Brooks in a recent New York Times column also notes that administrators who cut the SAM activities are deluding themselves, because in the long run, these are interests that "[quote] keep kids in school and build character [unquote]." Children need a little dessert with their academic vegetables.
Ironically, the most sensible extracurricular activity to be eliminated would be the most controversial. . . .
Football. Yes . . .
It's excessively expensive compared to other sports, it's played only by one sex -- boys -- and the evidence grows regularly now that it is a terribly dangerous sport, rife with concussions, which can damage young brains. There must be a good reason why virtually nowhere else in the world is what is distinctively called "American football" played.
Now, the hue and cry that would go up if schools started trying to drop our favorite sport would be at the mega-level. It would, in fact, be called "un-American" -- and would probably produce more hysteria than raising taxes would. But from a strictly realistic, cost-effective, health-effective, culture-effective point of view, it would make the most sense to drop football. That would allow art and music to remain in school, and divert boys into safer athletic exercise.
Or look at it this way. If administrators actually threatened to eliminate football, the football people might finally have to try and take the deadly violence out of the game.
Westporter Frank Deford originally aired this commentary on National Public Radio Wednesday morning. Deford's NPR sports column may be heard in Westport at WSHU. 91.1 FM or 1260 AM.