My son works with the youth group at his church outside Houston, and mentioned that some highschool players are indeed told by their coaches that football should be considered more important, and the higher commitment, than their class work. This seems appalling in our subculture; shameful, even. Certainly, it is damaging to teach children such things. Football is transitory, learning is forever. A coach whose priorities were out of whack might think such a thing, but even he would never say it. There are pieties to be observed.
I do like to reverse things and ask if they are really true, however. In my own case, I arrogantly did little class work in highschool, rather sneering that doing well on the test was sufficient. People must have said that there were other lessons that came from homework, studying, and the other boring parts, but I would have waved this off. Yet they were right. There are other lessons, and I didn’t learn them. What discipline I learned came from the performing arts and part-time jobs. A sport taken seriously might have done me good. Benjamin Spock claimed that getting up early to row crew, whether sick or well, in fair weather or foul, developed his character more than any class. “Crew made me.”
Especially now, as we wonder how efficiently our schools are teaching academic content*, we should look also at how well it teaches the other virtues one will need as an adult: showing up, completing tasks, duty to others, pursuit of excellence, finding alternative methods, keeping your temper. Sports do teach some of those things. So do Destination Imagination, building a stage set, and playing in orchestra.
Break it down to crisis, but not apocalypse terms. Civilization collapses temporarily. We have all these kids to instruct, we have some buildings but little money, and a functioning technological culture – not a subsistence agriculture society from massive destruction - we need to rebuild. All educational statutes at every level are now disregarded, for good or ill. What do we teach, and who does it? I don’t think football is rising to the top, but I’m pretty sure school classrooms look pretty different as well.
*Better than ever, contra conservative criticism. Yet still not very well.