by Edd Doerr
Separation of church and state has been good for religious liberty, and, for good or ill, it has enabled religion to flourish in the US. Now maybe we should seriously consider the separation of sports and state. What provokes this remark? Two important articles in the current (Oct) issue of the venerable Atlantic magazine: Gregg Easterbrook's "How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers" and Amanda Ripley's "The Case Against High-School Sports". To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "If a Sports League is good, it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not choose to support it, so that its patrons call for the help of government subsidies, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." If it is wrong for government to force us taxpayers to support religious institutions, then why should government force everyone, including the many millions of us who do not worship in the Grand Temple of the Most Holy Pigskin, to part with our hard-earned cash for the benefit of the wealthy and politically connected owners of football (and basketball, baseball and ice hockey) teams?
Easterbrook spells out the multi-billion dollar details in his article, while Ripley shows how "The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per-high-school athlete than per high-school math student -- unlike most countries worldwide." (While I gave Ripley's new book, The Smartest Kids in the World", only a so-so review on Sept 10, I think her Atlantic article is really great.) Ripley makes the very valid point that only a small percentage of high school kids get any exercise benefit from school sports. (When I was in high school, and I played in the marching band, football games were played on Friday afternoons for the benefit of students, but now they are played on Friday evenings for the benefit of the parents.) Across America school budgets are being slashed, teachers and other school personnel are being laid off, class sizes are being increased, college costs are rising, and pseudo-reformers are busily at work privatizing, voucherizing, charterizing and messing up public education, but anyone who suggests that we reduce public subsidies for huge sports stadiums or school or college athletic departments is likely to be called an unAmerican Islamist/communist.
In addition to the above, we might note that high school, college and professional football leads to no small amount of head and brain injuries, unlike virtually all other common sports.