Sports are America’s favorite pastime, but have we taken our obsession with football, baseball, basketball, and other recreational games too far? These days, it seems as if America’s No. 1 priority isn’t peace, equality, justice, or caring for our fellow Americans — it’s sports.
America worships sportsmen and sportswomen to such an extreme that many are willing to turn a blind eye to criminal allegations levied against professional athletes, that school coaches are paid more than teachers and professors, that millions are eager to put their lives on hold just to make sure the big game is seen — and the post-game review, too.
Here are 10 reasons why sports have become America’s No. 1 priority.
1. Sports are a priority in high schools
Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley first delved into the problem of America’s obsession with sports in “The Smartest Kids in the World,” a book that examines the issues of over-prioritizing sports in high schools by comparing the differences between Poland’s educational system and America’s.
Polish high schoolers are outscoring American high school students in both math and science since Poland eradicated sports teams from their high schools entirely. America’s high schools, on the other hand, are often entirely based around sports. An entire week dedicated to homecoming, pep rallies, leadership groups to plan these festivities, and long travel times to games all support the case that America is prioritizing sports much more than is appropriate.
Sports are such a priority in our high schools that oftentimes, entire summers are dedicated to cultivating high school sports teams, with days filled with long practice and drill sessions. Ripley points out that if a math teacher were to request a Saturday or summertime drill session, kids and parents alike would probably be outraged.
Among 74 countries, America’s high school students rank 31st in math and 17th in reading, and Ripley blames that on sports seeming to be the No. 1 priority in American schools.
2. Sports are a priority in college
Sports are a priority in American universities, too. Not only do students interested in becoming professional athletes often spend their college years grooming themselves for an attempt to go pro, but many institutions are geared to encourage this, some even “specializing” in a specific sport and being considered the “go to” college for hopefuls.
Reports by the American Institutes of Research’s Delta Cost Project have shown that NCAA Division I colleges spend “three to six times more on each of their athletes than educating each of their students.” Studies showed that the median spending on football in 2010 was $92,000 per athlete; some colleges spend more than $100,000 per year per athlete. This is evidence that sports are way too much of a priority in American universities, but it doesn’t look as though anything is being done to change it.
3. Little chance for advancement doesn’t stop over-prioritizing
With the emphasis and priority that schools place on athletes to compete successfully, one would think that the advancement from college football player (or any other sport) to professional athlete would be relatively common. But this is not the case. In reality, very few college athletes go on to have successful careers as professionals. Despite this daunting fact, sports are no less of a priority in America, and schools and parents continue to put an exaggerated amount of emphasis on the importance of sports players’ performances.
The Huffington Post notes that the sports industry is a “big, wide-ranging investment with a tiny proportion of people reaping any rewards at all and ‘collateral damage’ as a necessary by-product.”
4. Schools cover for their athletes
Besides the amount of misappropriated funds and time spent on college sports and individual athletes, the importance of sports is elevated even further by the way school coaches and administrations are willing to cover for the misbehavior of their star athletes — and the way that America seems to condone this sort of behavior.
In Tallahassee, Florida, the police force allegedly discouraged a woman from filing charges for rape against someone who just happened to be the quarterback at Florida State University, since the city was a “big football town” that would most likely mistreat her for standing up for herself. This is not an isolated case.
Mother Jones compiled a long list of alleged sexual assaults that have been supposedly brushed aside or overlooked because those facing charges were key players in some college sports team. The list stretches all the way back to 1974 and has dozens of examples.
5. Hero worship
America worships athletes as heroes to an absurd extent, a sad truth on a number of levels. Not only is it a gross injustice, but this is part of the way America denies itself the ability to take proper advantage of all the minds working as scientists, humanitarians, artists, and engineers. Instead, the U.S. is prioritizing sporting events and giving way too much credit to those who play them. Ask yourself what sports players contribute to society besides simple entertainment, and you will be hard pressed to come up with much.
6. Overinflated salaries
It’s no secret that professional athletes are incredibly overpaid. LeBron James makes over $20 million per year, which is amazing, considering that the average scientist’s yearly salary is $77,000. While James is getting paid millions to throw a ball into a hoop, many teachers — responsible for the education of America’s youth (and, indirectly, the future of the nation) — are struggling just to put food on the table with their average $35,672 per year. Bleacher Report points out that every basket scored by Kobe Bryant is equivalent to the average teacher’s yearly salary.
Would America’s police force be better and more highly refined if officer salaries were even close to that of a professional athlete? Would NASA be able to do more research or launch further space missions if America wasn’t so busy over-prioritizing sports and if the priority was funding the professions of scientists and engineers?
7. Teachers earn less than coaches
Not only do teachers earn less than professional athletes, some even earn less than coaches at their own schools. In Texas, football coaches earn an average of approximately $31,000 more per year than teachers, bringing their average salaries to $73,804; teachers in the state make about $42,400. And 27 of those Texas coaches earn even more than the school principal. It’s not just Texas: Many colleges dole out higher salaries and stipends to coaches than to professors.
8. The high value of America’s sports industries
The huge salaries of professional athletes are, unfortunately, the fault of countless fans who are willing to put their lives on hold and pour large amounts of money into tickets, Pay-Per-View rentals, sports memorabilia, gear, and other team-related merchandise. America’s sports industry is worth a whopping $422 billion, employing 1 percent of the population with almost 3 million sports-related jobs. And that does not include the salaries of professional athletes.
The NFL generates $9 billion per year, and the MLB comes in second, with $7.2 billion.
Fans go insane when it comes to collecting sports memorabilia and attending games, and both are only becoming more expensive — but fans aren’t becoming any less interested. The 2013 World Series’ Game 6 was named “the most expensive baseball ticket in history,” with standing room-only tickets being sold at $900 each. Both the demand and the reckless enthusiasm to buy tickets at any cost are reasons for this needless inflation, and those printing price tags know this well enough to continue pumping money out of the herd of sports enthusiasts who are willing to dole it out.
9. An emphasis on winning
It’s not just sports that have become America’s No. 1 priority, but the act of winning, as well. To America, winning equates to a successful and admirable person — and that’s what youth are taught to believe, as well. The giant salaries of professional athletes and the emphasis given to sports in school and our booming sports industry all have a hidden undertone: Winning is more important than anything, and winners make the most money and have the most worth. Indiscretions go unnoticed, lives are enriched with money, and everything is generally better for those who know how to win.
And yet, it’s scientifically proven that too much of an emphasis on winning — instead of learning and doing — is detrimental to the development of children.
10. Excessive media coverage
Ripley, the investigative journalist, points out that it’s not uncommon for multiple reporters to show up at “big” school games. Super Bowl commercial spots are the most expensive advertisements of the year, and football season sees games absolutely dominating television networks. The priority is not educational shows or programs teaching important values, but sports.