I planned this week to have students think about whether or not they believed in the necessity of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” in education. I’m somewhat of a skeptic on the matter, and found myself applauding a recent letter from the University of Chicago to its incoming first-year students. If you’re interested in such issues, The Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf has covered them well.
But today I decided I would turn my attention to a place where there are no safe spaces: the football field. High schools in Mississippi are in week three of the football season; college ball has just begun. Why do we love it so much? I have to admit that when I was in high school, I loathed the sport–mostly because I was no good at it, and because I resented the favoritism good athletes got from their teachers and peers. But I also know, in retrospect, that I didn’t understand it, and that I was dismissive of it for small reasons.
Intellectuals tend to give sports short shrift. Thoreau was an avid outdoorsman, to put it mildly, but viewed sports with the same suspicion he did organized religion. Football players get lampooned ruthlessly in films, as do cheerleaders. The physical dangers of the sport have been known from the start, and the long-term effects of football concussions are only recently coming to the broad light of day.
Yet kids play it. They want to play it. Some stay in school for its thrills. Here’s a potential reason why, from James Wright:
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home. Their women cluck like starved pullets, Dying for love. Therefore, Their sons grow suicidally beautiful At the beginning of October, And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.