"If you scoff at intellectuals, harass scientists, and reward only athletic achievements, then the future is very dark indeed." John F. Kennedy
On September 23rd, 2003, the Fictional Interviewer (FI) sat down to ask XP questions regarding his controversial proposal to drop sports from schools. Here are some excerpts from that interview.
FI: Are you serious with this proposal?
XP: Very much so.
FI: What, did you think this idea up one night at midnight?
XP: Actually, I have to let you know I didn't originate this idea, although I wish I could take credit for it. The first time I ever heard this idea mentioned was by a professor at California State University, Bakersfield about seven or eight years ago -- and I've heard it from several other since. The first time I heard it I was shocked, just like so many readers here will no doubt be shocked (at first). So this isn't something I thought of last night, it's something I've been considering and trying to sort through over a long period of time - you know assimilating and accommodating.
FI: Aren't you aware of the positive effects of sports in school and society?
XP: Yes, there are many positive effects of sports. I love sports. Sports have been an important part of my life as a player, coach, parent, and fan.
FI: What about the concept of "mind-body dualism?" Are psychologists giving up on that?
XP: I cannot speak for any psychologist other than myself, but I emphasize mind-body dualism (healthy in mind and body). I encourage people of all ages to be healthy in mind and body.
FI: How can we ever keep students fit and trim and in shape without school sports?
XP: Well, first of all, students don't seem to be so fit and trim and in shape with school sports. Second, I'm not saying dump sports -- I encourage all to find a sport they enjoy and participate in it -- I'm saying drop school sports. Sports at school. Sports run and paid for by schools, that is, the taxpayers.
FI: Aren't you aware that athletes enjoy a much high social status than most other students?
XP: Yes, very much so. Let's think about that for a second... someone who was born with the ability to throw a ball is much higher in the academic and social strata than an Honors Chemistry student? How did things get so turned upside down?
FI: A lot of students who don't excel academically can excel in sports. This gives them a chance to experience success in school. Aren't you the one always talking about "success-based" education?
XP: Yes, I'm one-hundred percent for success-based education. Maybe if a student spent three hours a day studying history instead of three hours per day shooting a basketball, his or her grades might improve... thus experiencing greater academic success.
FI: What about jobs? Don't you know a high percentage of teachers are hired solely because they can coach?
XP: Uh, yeah. Very much so. Another point for my argument.
FI: Some research has found coaches to be the most respected and trusted staff members by students.
XP: Yes, coaches are great and influential heroes, often greatly respected by students. Butt 911 showed that there are other heroes in America besides sports heroes. There are many great heroes in education in addition to coaches, including superintendents, principals, board members, teachers, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, aides, school psychologists, and others. If an athlete ever got out of the gym, s/he might benefit from working with some of these people.
FI: You can't underestimate the importance of a football team to a high school.
XP: That's just it. I'm not underestimating the community's Friday night football game. Everything, and mean everything, seems to rest on the outcome of that game. But people seem to forget that while eleven players are nobly representing the school and community, hundreds of other local students are representing the community and school by considering suicide, taking drugs, smoking, joining gangs, being beaten, failing in school, running away, sitting home suspended or expelled, and/or becoming lost. If [we] win the game, then we're the best -- we don't have to worry about little things like drugs, suicide, etc. -- 'cause we're the best... no matter what the school's API.
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FI: What about the special treatment the athletes are used to? Are you going to throw all that out?
XP: Yes, most definitely. That's the most urgent and necessary change.
FI: How could kids ever play sports if sports were removed from schools?
XP: Already in existence are recreational and competitive community leagues, teams, and clubs for almost every sport. Think of Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball... they're not affiliated with schools. Think of AYSO soccer. Think of JFL and Young America Football. Think of the volleyball clubs. There are basketball, wrestling, swimming, track, bowling, golf, and more clubs, teams, and leagues. If you want to play a sport, go play it -- after you've completed your school work.
FI: But there is so much homework. Many kids would rather be pitching.
XP: Did you say, "pitching?"
FI: Yes, "pitching!"
XP: Okay, if a student spent more time doing school work and less time pitching, then they would have less homework. Think about it.
"Think." John Lennon
FI: Is this some weird attempt to utilize logic?
XP: Yeah, it's a social experiment to see how people might react to logic.
FI: Some can't afford club fees. Are you saying sports should only be available for the rich?
XP: If students spent more time studying, they could graduate and earn more money and be able to pay for those things in life they consider to be important, like sports for their kids, for example. That's how America works.
FI: Why should a parent pay for sports for their kid when the law guarantees a free and appropriate education?
XP: You're right! The law guarantees a free and appropriate public education. It does not [should not] provide for a free minor league system for the major leagues. It does not [should not] provide for millions of dollars a year for nationwide scouting and recruiting systems for the pros. It does not [should not] establish a meat farm that aspiring young children eagerly allow themselves to enter with Olympic dreams, not realizing that far less than one percent of all who strive toward the pros ever make it. I think it's quite clear (to me anyway) that appropriate physical education classes are quite able to provide for a free and appropriate physical education.
FI: What about those students who keep their GPA above 2.00 solely to be eligible for sports?
XP: This would be an opportunity for them to start making better choices.
"The thugs want to be players and the players want to be thugs." Deion Sanders, 2015
FI: School teams wear uniforms. Hasn't research shown that uniforms help with identity formation, teamwork, cooperation, academic performance, and so much more?
XP: I agree... why don't all students in the schools wear the same uniform -- not just a select few?
FI: Are you aware of the percentage of school funding that goes towards sports?
XP: I can't give you an exact percentage, funding information in every district is guarded like Fort Knox. But I, and you, can imagine the cost of sports in schools -- especially the high schools -- isn't cheap. You might be able to get some information regarding funding from your district or the State Department of Education.
FI: But high school football programs actually make money for the school, don't they?
XP: That's true, but at the same time, the school also gets everything else that goes hand-in-hand with, um, big money. It's true the football program will often make money while most of the other sports are losing money.
FI: Aren't you aware of America's love of sports?
XP: Yep, I love sports too. I hope sports involvement continues to increase.
FI: This idea of yours would be a lot different from the way we've always done things.
XP: Good. When we honestly examine the way we've always done things, it's quite obviously time for a change.
FI: If we were to drop sports, wouldn't a lot of students drop out?
XP: If a student is only in school to play a sport, s/he is wasting seven hours a day anyway.
FI: I don't think I could live without sports at school. I'm, uh, a fan, you know?
XP: Why don't you start your own sports school? You know, a school for football players who are driven to strive toward pro football? Or pick whatever sport you like. There are military schools. Christian schools. Gifted schools. Schools for the rich. Girls' schools. Schools for the "at risk." Schools for the rich. Schools for the disillusioned. Schools waiting for aliens to pick them up. Schools for the rich. Conservative schools. Frank Zappa High School. Schools for the rich. Elite schools. Art schools. Schools for gays. Schools for the rich. Why not sports schools? Go for it... I bet you could make some money, eh? That's what we're really talking about here, right?
FI: If we were to eliminate school sports, would funding to schools drop?
XP: Hopefully so. Education can do it's part to spend the taxpayers' money wisely and help reduce the deficit too.
FI: You know this idea of your's will never happen, don't you?
XP: Yeah, I know. Common sense, logic, and rationality often don't seem to be priorities.
At this point in the interview, XP stood up and started pacing. Back and forth. He paced for approximately two minutes. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth, aggressively wringing his hands. He spit, then mumbled something. Then he sat down again.
FI: I don't want common sense... I want scientific research.
XP: No you don't.
FI: Yes, I do!
XP: No you don't. If you wanted scientific research, things would be a lot different.
FI: Do you have any research to back up your claims or not?
XP: Why don't you award me a $15 million -- no, a $25 million grant to perform longitudinal research? That'll make me go away (for awhile) -- isn't that what you want? I'll be back in thirty years with the results. Then will you guarantee you'll agree to follow whatever recommendations the research suggests, since it's research based?
FI: If students aren't playing sports, won't the crime rate go up?
XP: What, higher than it is now? Is that possible?
FI: Isn't that one of the main purposes of school sports -- to keep kids off the streets? To keep them out of trouble?
XP: That seems to be one of the primary assumptions -- society continues to view children as "evil" -- "evil creatures who must be protected from themselves." I guess I've had a hard time buying into the assumption that children are "evil." Children remain my heroes. I hold high expectations for them and have always observed them to be inherently good -- not evil.
FI: Would there be any positive effects to schools without sports?
XP: Well, in addition to everything I've already mentioned, students might spend more time with their academics. Isn't that the goal of public schools? To increase academic performance? Correct me if I'm wrong here.
FI: In my school, they've already taken away art, music, vocational programs, home economics, 4H, and religion class... and now sports? What's left?
XP: Just English, math, reading, writing, history, science, PE, and all other state-required content areas. And oh, don't worry, religion class is still there.
FI: You seem to be inferring that all students must attend college.
XP: No, I'm inferring that all students could attain at least a fourth grade reading level.
FI: Look at the professional sports leagues to observe the effects of sports in society. Athletes can make millions of dollars, especially kids from impoverished backgrounds.
XP: That's right. A kid who never graduated and with a criminal record can make $850,000 a game while a kid who gets his/her Ph.D. can make $850,000 in ten years. I'm all for opportunity for everyone, but the athlete could just as well get to the pros through clubs - the student can't get a Ph.D. without a school.
FI: You're really serious about this idea, aren't you?
FI: What about jobs? Don't you know a high percentage of teachers are hired solely because they coach?
XP: You already asked me that question.
FI: I still don't get it. How will kids ever stay in shape without school sports?
XP: You already asked me that question too, but I'll try again. Keep PE classes, but maybe PE teachers could emphasize something beyond just dressing out for an A?
FI: You know this is a ridiculous idea because I have more power than you and therefore things will be my way.
XP: I know. You obviously were a school athlete and base your educational decisions on machismo and egoism. Through competition and your authoritarian style you have become a greater power than me. You yell louder than me and you're the one with the gun. You beat me to a pulp. You dominate me. You humiliate me. You da' boss, you da' man. You kick my butt. You win... and the students lose.
FI: Sports builds character, discipline, structure, ethics, and more!
XP: That's right, it can, just like academics and higher learning.
FI: You know, a lot of readers are going to consider you a Commie for your views.
XP: I'd prefer to be thought of as a Martian.
FI: I still don't get it. Either you hate sports or you hate athletes. Which is it?
XP: I understand your confusion. Like I said earlier, it's taken me several years to sort through a lot of this... I've had to resolve a lot of cognitive dissonance. I love sports. Some student-athletes are my heroes. Many student-athletes ultimately become leaders in our country. I've spent more time in my life involved in sports than as a professional educator. My daughters played sports and I watch sports on television. So I don't hate sports and I don't hate anyone and I don't address this issue lightly -- I merely forward a position that I ask you to consider because you are the one with the power. I'm putting you in charge of this.
FI: Well, it's been, um, interesting to say the least. Thank you for your time, even though you know even the simplest of changes takes seven to fifteen years to implement in traditional educational institutions.
XP: I know. Thank you!
Amanda Ripley of The Atlantic finally asked the same question(s) in 2013... The Case Against High School Sports.