Athletic obsession squanders students’ academic potential

Elie Salem, News Editor

Hard, fist-sized balls, seemingly unbattable, rain down from the sky to wreck homes and destroy lawn ornaments. Plastic pucks, seemingly unwhackable, slide across the frozen tundra to injure pedestrians and trip polar bears. Frisbees, seemingly uncatchable, zig-zag across the jetstream to bring down planes and concuss birds. America mobilizes the varsity athletes, millions upon millions of them, to muster a national defense.

The unbattable balls are batted, the unwhackable pucks are whacked, the uncatchable frisbees are caught. The future of American prosperity is assured.

It seems that somewhere in the back of our heads, all Americans must be preparing for this doomsday scenario. Colleges scour the nation for the mightiest small forward, the fastest shortstop, the biggest linebacker, as if that arbitrary position will have some relevance in the job market. Parents, in preparation for the collegiate time of reckoning, push their infants out of the stroller and into a soccer jersey.

Ultimately, our fixation on athletic rather than academic accomplishment discourages students from pursuing interests that might lead to any tangible impact on the world. The geeks of the robotics lab, the nerds of the debate team, the tryhards of the school newspaper, while learning skills that will be immediately applicable in their future careers, are perpetually doomed to a college application process that doesn’t include conversations with coaches and a lucrative potential for scholarships.

The worn-and-ready response from athletic advocates is that sports teach leadership skills and the value of work ethic. For the most part that’s true—participating in a sports team and attending five practices a week is both physically and mentally demanding—but that can be said for just about any other activity.

Where is the reverence for the stage-crew kids, who work day and night, arguably just as hard as the baseball players, to create amazing playsets?

The only thing the prospect of professional sports brings to the table is the often far-fetched notion that a professional career can be made of it and a unique potential for injury and exhaustion. Those chosen few who do get to play in college find that they have little to no time for a thorough education, and those who attempt to reach further into the world of professional sports quickly hit a dead end.

This fixation is far graver than a passion for exercise. The prospects of whole generations are lost to the abyss of athletic accomplishment; potential for scientific or literary distinction squandered under the grind mill of high school sports.

When sized up with our allies, America is educationally anemic. The sheer determination of Chinese students has single-handedly raised their nation’s industry and technology companies from nothing to levels at par with Apple and Microsoft. Countries around the world are moving from developing to developed on the backs of talented students and focused curriculum.

In a country that is rarely, even for national defense purposes, faced by the need to thwack balls at 90 miles per hour, our manic obsession with athletics halts our national productivity and forever caps our scientific capabilities.