College football teaches what liberal arts don’t

by Chana Cox

Last year the Oregon Ducks lost the BCS Tournament.  At the time, it felt like a devastating loss. This year they won the Rose Bowl.  That victory has been ninety-five years in the making.  Football teaches us how to get up and keep going after we have been knocked down.  In football, as in life, we have to learn not to be defeated by our failures.

Some of my teaching colleagues think varsity sports get in the way of a liberal arts education.  They’re wrong.  Football teaches our students a great many things which often go untaught in today’s school system.

Football teaches that self-esteem cannot be given; it must be earned.  Football teaches that no matter how good you are, you can’t win alone.  You are part of a team.  It teaches you that often you have to continue working long after your mind and body are screaming at you to quit.  It teaches that no matter how talented you are, you can’t break the rules of the game and you darn well should not be allowed to break the laws of the land.

Football teaches you that as an adult you have the right to choose to do dangerous things, because football is dangerous and it is a choice. Some of the risks can be lessened, but players are injured and may even die playing football.   I worry about football injuries and it’s one of the reasons I prefer basketball.  I seldom recommend students join the football team because I am not sure the risks are worth it; but I firmly believe, in a free society, the choice is theirs and not mine.

In football there are winners and there are losers.  If everyone wins, no one wins.  But it’s OK because competition can be a very good thing.  It can bring out the best in you and in the game.  Football provides an equal playing field.  It doesn’t discriminate against you because of your race, your religion, your politics or your sexual orientation.  Still, if you are plump and top out at 5’2”, you had better enjoy the game as a fan and find some other way to excel.  Life is not fair, but football is fair unless the referees are crooked.

Athletes have been among my most academically gifted students, but whether the student-athletes in my class earned A’s or C’s, most of them have gone on to live rich and productive lives out there in the “real” world in part because of what they learned from football.

Chana Cox, U-Choose Education Forum, and Lewis and Clark faculty emerita