Marin Voice: An argument that schools favor soccer, not football

Marin Voice: An argument that schools favor soccer, not football

Speaking with some kids in a Hayward high school, I was asked what I thought of their school district spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the football stadium while doing nothing to repair their torn-up soccer field.

Many of these kids are first- and second-generation immigrants from countries where kids begin playing soccer as soon as they can kick a ball. They felt it was discriminating and unfair. I agreed. It’s also typical of thousands of American communities.

The school district action implicitly discriminated against minorities and immigrants. It also reflected a commitment to a sport that probably shouldn’t be played by high school kids, period. The distribution of funding was at the expense of soccer, a sport that is played with passion internationally but is often neglected here, especially in lower socio-economic communities.

On safety issues alone, traditional football should be banned at the high school level. In an article in the summer 2018 issue of Harvard Educational Review, “Friday Night Lights Out: The End of Football in Schools,” the authors, Curren and Blakhuis, after examining many research studies, conclude that school authorities should “understand that the benefits of football for spectators and communities cannot possibly justify the harm to players who are too young to give meaningful consent and are often constrained by an unjustly limited set of life prospects.”

High school football is a sacred cow and I expect some strong negative responses to its proposed elimination, but football-related concussions are a significant health threat at the high school and college level. We also know that equipment and stadiums make the sport expensive. There are an increasing number of schools, even across states like Texas. where high school football has been venerated, that have eliminated their football programs and replaced them with relatively safe 7 v 7 touch football. Meanwhile, there
continues to be minimal funding for soccer programs.

In contrast, the coach of the Croatian World Cup team, Zlatko Dalic, wrote a letter to all Croatians noting that all prize money earned for reaching the final, $28 million, will be donated to the charity Fund for Croatian Children. A good portion of those funds will be used to support youth soccer programs.

This type of support and funding for youth soccer is typical in much of Europe and Latin America, even in relatively poor countries like Croatia.

So I want to propose changes in our approach to both sports. The recommendations are based on the evidence cited above regarding health consequences and the discrimination against low socio-economic communities. They are also based on my observations while in Europe during the World Cup of how much soccer can contribute to national morale.

School districts should only have 7 v 7 touch football. Recent efforts in Marin to better protect football players are admirable but insufficient. We should provide greater funding to support youth soccer, with a focus on schools in lower socio-economic areas. Given the legitimate concern regarding concussions in soccer, headers should be banned until kids reach the age of 16.

My justification for the focus on soccer is simple: it’s easy to field teams with minimal equipment needed; it’s an easy sport for less talented kids to enjoy playing; it’s a truly international game and promoting it as an inter-ethnic and inter-racial game could help with cross-cultural connections, including teams visiting to and from different countries.

The major cultural currents in this country run counter to these changes, but the action of many schools switching to 7 v 7 football and some communities increasing funding for youth soccer give me hope.

Finally, there is no contradiction between national pride and international competition, which can encourage connection. That was clearly evident during the World Cup. Perhaps we can learn from that.

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