Football In America Essay, Research Paper
In a society where competition and hard work are the rule, the game of football and in particular, high school football, with its melange of mores, norms and rituals have symbolically come to represent the American life. Like many of the conventions in American society, high school football has over the years ingrained in its players teamwork, loyalty, and the value of hard work. In addition, the institution of high school football not only pertains to the game, but has influenced many participants in the matters of sexuality, albeit with a certain degree of conflict. Finally, high school footballs’ rituals and rites of passages have enforced the attributes that have been deemed worthy, and have further inculcated beliefs in its partakers. In this paper, I will argue that high school football is not just merely a game, but a small yet very real facsimile of the American society as a whole.
In high schools all across America, football has been the prevalent sport for generations. From the early days of football starting in the 1920’s to the present day, football athletes have started their careers on high school fields. Coaches on every football team from the smallest towns to the Nationwide Division One champion teams have to a large degree stressed a certain standard of conduct and behavior. Among these attributes that are taught, teamwork is no doubt the most important. Vince Lombardi, considered by many to have been the finest football coach in history said, “Football is a game of many lessons in teamwork… The only true satisfaction a player receives is the satisfaction that comes from being part of a successful team, regardless of what his own personal ends are.” (Flynn, 15). Countless coaches in high school have agreed with Lombardi, and have taught teamwork as a means of achieving victories. Raul Palafox, a Central California League first team receiver and first team safety attributed much of his success to his team. He said, “It’s the team that wins the games. They’re the ones that enabled me to do as well as I did, and I gave everything I had for them in return. I’m nothing on the field without my team.” Palafox like many other players have attributed their personal success to their team, and it can be said that this is a result of the lessons players have undergone by their coaches. Loyalty is also another trait that coaches have highly stressed. Many times in my own personal football career my coach instructed us in this trait. An example of this was the fact that we were not to talk to anyone but fellow players before a game. This would show that our concentration and attention were only on the task at hand, and the people that would enable our victory. Such loyalty has been shown in other contexts as well. Norton Kim, another highly decorated first team player said, “There’s a lot of times where I’ve gotten into fights because (people) were messing with my friends… They’re (football teammates) like my brothers.” On and off the field, many high school football players have shown in action and deed how much the loyalty taught to them through the game has affected their lives. Finally, the ethic of working hard can safely be said to have been taught to just about every football team in the nation. David Nelson, a football coach at the high school level said about football, “…it requires exhausting hard work, to the point of drudgery.” (Nelson, 43). In support of this, special training camps notoriously called “Hell Week”, have been formed around the nation for high schools. During these “Hell Week” training period, players have to condition much harder than normally, as this weeds out players unwilling to work hard, in addition to bringing the willing players into shape. Exercises such as three mile runs, in 30 pound football pads in 100 degree weather are not unusual at all. Contrary to popular belief, this point of working hard does not only go towards the games played. As noted by Nelson, “Over 40 percent of all major injuries and more than 75 percent of all injuries happen during practice.” (Nelson, 32). Players are not only encouraged, but are demanded to give their utmost not only in game situations, but continuously. These traits mentioned above not only play an integral role in the realm of football but also in general to life in American society. The attributes of teamwork, loyalty and hard work are desirable in the work force of today. They are so desirable in fact, that many self-help gurus have made millions teaching many how to gain these traits and others they deem necessary for success. In teaching their players about the importance of these aforementioned qualities, high school football coaches have not only developed quality players, but have also instigated many of the qualities necessary for success in later life.
Quite possibly the most controversial subject matter that has been brought to attention about high school football is the way players have had their beliefs influenced about sexuality, namely sexual preference. Many players and even coaches have come under fire from individuals that were unfairly discriminated against due to their sexual preference. In one case in Boise, Iowa, a high school senior, Timothy Watkins was repeatedly verbally abused and discriminated against by his coach for being homosexual, when the fact of the matter was that he was indeed not gay. In my own personal experiences my former football teams’ views of homosexuals were the antithesis of what football players should be. Football players were supposed to be tough and manly. Homosexuals on the other hand, were typecast as weak and unskilled, and depictions of them having lisps and “broken” wrist movements were prevalent among many of the players. In fact, the definitive player would not only be one that would perform well on the field, but would also be popular with the ladies. Insults such as “faggot” and “Homo” were passed on to those who many of the players felt were not playing to the “standard” that somehow heterosexuals played at. This can be seen as extremely sardonic in the fact that many anthropologists have seen football as, “… a form of symbolic homosexual behavior, (similar) to the initiation rites of aboriginal Australia…” (Rosman, Rubel 78). Dundes, a sports anthropologist also stated that football was, “… combat between groups of males attempting to assert their masculinity by penetrating the endzones of their rivals.” (Rosman, Rubel 78). The penetrating of endzones can symbolically seen as a very homoerotic symbol, and yet the same individuals who have accepted these symbols as literal manifestations in their life, have been the ones discriminated against. While morally wrong in discriminating against gays, these influences can be paralleled to the discrimination many gays feel in everyday life. If a player on the football team I participated in was gay, then there would be a great deal of tension amongst the rest of the team, particularly during shower and changing times. In the same sense, many cases of homosexuals being shunned or avoided in the workforce have been equivalent to the manner in which a homosexual on a football team would be received. Doubtless, there would be some form of acceptance for gays in both contexts, but for the majority of their co-workers or players, there would be a sense of uneasiness and sometimes outward hostility. One individual that I interviewed, Randy Wiecek, a varsity football player for three years, was an outstanding linebacker at a highly ranked high school in Southern California. He was also a homosexual. In his struggles with his teams homophobic tendencies he decided to keep his sexual preference a secret from everyone on the team. He said about the situation, “It was really hard. Guys would make gay jokes all the time, and I’d have to laugh along with them. I hated a lot of them so much, but I loved football more than I hated them.” While more tolerance has been shown towards different sexual preferences than in the past, Wiecek’s story of discrimination and spite prove to be the rule towards gays in football. This is complementary towards the treatment that homosexuals have endured in other aspects of life, and proves further how high school football has infiltrated into the minds of its participants.
Finally, rituals among a high school football team have influenced players to think and act in certain ways. Some rituals have no doubt been beneficial to both players and coaches, but others have not been so noble. One ritual prevalent in most high school football rituals is that of the pre-game prayer. While a dignified ritual it is somehow ironic that many of these football players, some of the rowdiest, raucous, and hedonistic individuals in the school, would all join together in a prayer with sincerity. In the same sense, many coaches known for their ability to curse fluently and to act upon any violent tendency, would join the prayer with equal piety as their players. While hypocritical in many views, this behavior in turn can be seen as congruent to many of the church-goers in America. While attending church, these same members would from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night indulge themselves in all manners of secular pleasure. Another ritual, this time one with great meaning and dignity is the holding of hands amongst players walking out onto the football field. This ritual held by nearly every high school team has shown the unity that the team possesses. In this gesture, teammates, even ones with enmity towards each other, are to hold hands in sign of support for each other and for their group. Another great ritual that has been used in many high school teams is the quoting of great football coaches, in particular Vince Lombardi. Our head coach before every game would recite the quote that made Lombardi famous. He quoted Lombardi saying, “The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field or endeavor.” (Flynn, 124). Immediately following this, we would rush out onto the field bursting with pride and striving for the excellence that Lombardi dreamt about. Aside from the somewhat beneficial rituals listed above, there have been some rituals that have been very reprehensible in the sport of high school football. Recently, a coach in Schurr High School in Monterrey Park was fired for having shown pornographic films to his team before games as a sort of encouragement to his team. The majority of his players were minors, and parents not to mention law enforcement officials were outraged. This in turn can be seen in many of today’s individuals in the business arena, where allegations of sexual harassment and improper conduct have been frequent. Another ritual that has been widespread in many of the nations high school football teams is the exclusion of females in the sport. My alma mater, La Canada high school was featured in the LA Times when recently for the first time since its’ inception, the football team enabled a female to play football. While this has been more common during the last few years, all female football players prior to Sarah Rathburn, were place-kickers. Rathburn is unique in that she plays on the defensive line. When asked about the new female player at his school, Norton Kim said, “I don’t mind that much, but there are a few things that bother me about it. I’m not being sexist or anything, but she’s not a very good player and she insists on playing defense, where you need the most strength and speed. (Head Coach) Wheeler puts her in games above other players with more seniority and skills, just so he can get publicity from her. It would be just as bad if it were a guy that did the same thing.” In response to the allegation that Kim made, I asked Sarah Rathburn what she felt about her football experience. She said, “I think I’m just as good as anyone on the team. The reason why I play is not to get attention, but because I really love the game. I’ve been watching football since I was three, probably longer than any of the guys on this team. I play because I try hard, not because (Coach) Wheeler gives me special treatment because I’m a girl.” This ritual of sex and gender conflicts is also shown in similar contexts to the many gender conflicts in the workplace. Furthermore, as women in football were formerly only kickers, and females like Rathburn have pioneered their entry into different positions, so too have women formerly confined to secretaries and nurses, now aspire to positions such as CEO and M.D. These rituals, and many more in football have actively influenced its’ members, and has also measured up to many of the popular beliefs of today, and has proven that football rituals have mirrored the real world.
High school football, with all its mores, norms rituals and influences has in essence emulated real life, with its own standards and rules of conduct. Through the teaching of hard work, loyalty and teamwork, those who have taught these traits have not only produced better football players, but have taken things necessary from the business world and have transplanted it into their players. Also, football has influenced its members on the subject of sexuality, which like in American society today is fraught with discrimination, confusion and controversy. Finally, high school football with its rituals, good and bad have paralleled quite nicely with rituals that many American adults employ in their every day lives. In these rituals, it is seen just how well high school football is a smaller version of life itself. On the playing field of life, high school football will always be an indicator of reality’s values, beliefs and rituals