Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Searching for Common Ground: High School Football’s Risks and Rewards

The sport involves a healthy dose of concern and benefit for student athletes
By Rick Hess — September 13, 2022 4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Pedro Noguera, the dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, and I have a podcast (Common Ground: Conversations on Schooling) in which we dig into our disagreements and seek to identify common ground on some of the thorniest questions in education. I thought readers might enjoy perusing snippets of those conversations every now and then. Today, Pedro and I discuss the safety concerns of high school football along with its value for student athletes.

—Rick

Pedro: I think about how many communities and cities right now put so many public resources into their football teams. I like football, but too often, such investments come at the expense of other needs. I have worked in cities where school systems are falling apart and in dire need of improvement, but city leaders don’t seem to realize that the fate of their city is much more dependent on the quality of their public schools than on an NFL football team. Too often, our priorities with respect to schools and sports are out of balance. I don’t mean to imply that sports and physical education aren’t important. I was an athlete in school and college, and I still watch sports, including football, on TV. However, I have lots of concerns about the business of sports and all of the head injuries. When athletes are impaired for life, who takes care of them? Personally, I believe that if they took away the helmets and shoulder pads, football would be safer because then it would be more like rugby (a game I played), and the players wouldn’t use their heads as weapons. I think there are things we could do to make sports safer and to take some of the money out of sports, which would make them more accessible.

Rick: On this safety question: What’s your feeling about high school football? One push is for the 7-on-7, which is kind of what you’re talking about—you get rid of the blocking, and it basically just becomes a passing game. It’s obviously a safer alternative with a lot of appeal, especially in a more safety-conscious era. On the other hand, lots of kids—and grown-ups—enjoy the intense physicality of football as it’s traditionally been played. That’s part of the joy and becomes a source of discipline, part of the formative experience, and a focused outlet for aggression. I’m curious where you tend to come down on that.

Pedro: I think football should be played more like rugby. You could still play on the big, full field. I was in New Zealand a few years ago, where they have professional rugby, and athletes are required to perform community service. They also don’t get the same number of head injuries as we do in American football. It’s still very physical, but it’s not deadly. Even now, as protections have been added to protect quarterbacks—you still see a lot of serious injuries. The careers of running backs and linemen are really short, and getting shorter. It’s partially because the game is so dangerous.

Rick: Yeah, that’s a very fair point. Last season, something like seven of the NFL’s eight best-paid running backs missed a big chunk of the season. So, I hear you on the rugby thing. I’ve always been a football guy. I love football, but the points you’re raising in regards to safety are real. And we can’t avoid or duck them when we’re talking as parents or about students. And obviously, concussions are something you’ve got to take seriously. On the other hand, I have concerns about the way football gets attacked. If you read the New Yorker or the like, every year they seem obliged to write some dismissive screed about how football’s the ugly side of the violent American nightmare, and I just don’t see it that way. When I interact with folks who’ve played football, there’s something about the discipline, something about the rigor, something about the pageantry of it that is just really beneficial for a lot of kids. I think it’s just different from playing other high school sports like basketball, baseball, or tennis. Now, that being said, part of that is we know a lot of kids have just an unbelievably misinformed sense of the odds that they’re going to make it to the NFL or NBA. And, safety aside, that’s a whole different problem in its own right.

Pedro: I do think giving kids the chance to play, to be physical, and to experience competition is an important part of healthy development. But some sports are too dangerous. Think about boxing. When I grew up, boxing was a big sport. I loved to watch boxing. Now, there is wide agreement that it’s not only corrupt but abusive. I have a feeling that football could end up being regarded in the same way if the sport doesn’t take the lead in protecting the athletes. Many parents are not willing to risk the brains of their children for the game. It’s also not just a matter of protecting them physically but also ensuring that student athletes receive an education as well. Then, they come away from school or college with skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. To hear the rest of the conversation, check out Episode 8 of Rick and Pedro’s Common Ground Podcast, “ School Sports.”

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being School Sports Participation Drops, Raising Concern About 'Physical Learning Loss'
But interest in e-sports and inclusive teams is rising.
5 min read
The Michigan City High School Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a Future Wolves basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the high school.
The varsity girls basketball team at Michigan City High School in Michigan City, Ind., hosted a basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls last spring.
Kelley Smith/The News Dispatch via AP
Student Well-Being Biden's National Strategy on Hunger: What It Means for Schools
The administration seeks more access to free school meals and nutritious foods. But a universal free meals bill is stalled in Congress.
4 min read
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in Washington on Sept. 28.
Evan Vucci/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion Why Students Give In to Peer Pressure. Here’s How to Help Them Resist It
Punishments like suspension don’t solve behavior problems. These tools are more effective.
Geoffrey L. Cohen
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Explainer The School Year Is Getting Hotter. How Does Heat Affect Student Learning and Well-Being?
Climate change will lead to more hot school days, and experts say schools are not prepared.
10 min read
With only open windows and fans to cool the room down, students enter their non-air-conditioned classroom at Campbell High School in Ewa, Hawaii, on Aug. 3, 2015. Most of Hawaii's public schools don't have air conditioning, and record-high temperatures have left teachers and students saying they can't focus because of the heat. Hawaii lawmakers are saying it's time to cool Hawaii's public schools. A proposal being considered by the House Committee of Finance would fund air conditioning for Hawaii Department of Education schools and expedite the process to get cooling systems installed in classrooms.
Only open windows and fans cooled the room as students arrived at Campbell High School in Ewa, Hawaii, in August, 2015. Most of Hawaii's public schools don't have air conditioning, even as research shows that heat can depress student learning.
Marco Garcia/AP