http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/23/sport ... ports.html
Backtalk; The Entangled Web Around Youth Sports
By ROBERT LIPSTYLE
Published: May 23, 1999
''Jocks are here to stay,'' wrote a retired English teacher whose cyberspace handle is Tonya177. ''Kids need the instant feedback of win-lose. Academics' promise is far in the future, contingent on luck and developing talent. A game is won or lost -- now.''
But Bascinet1 disagreed: ''The jock culture is bad enough, but to have it perpetuated in the halls of educational institutions is completely obscene. To those who say, 'There are winners and losers; that's the way it is;' were you raised by wolves?''
Over the past two weeks, in a thoughtful and spirited debate on The New York Times on the Web Forums, fans and nonfans have been wrestling with the values -- positive and negative -- of American sports.
''Jock culture is all about instilling overly competitive, glory-seeking values,'' wrote Mordox. ''A lot of former jocks will tell you that participating in team sports teaches instead the values of teamwork, dedication, and so on, which is true to the extent that jocks will back each other up when one of them is picking on an unpopular kid. But what about 'teamwork' when the 'opponent' is not on the same 'team'? Or if some kid doesn't have the 'skills,' or doesn't want to wear the 'uniform' to join the 'team?' ''
But we need jocks, maintained another poster.
''Desmosthenes and the Gipper both emphasized tenacity of purpose, dedication and selflessness for the common good,'' wrote Jamesrice9. ''Students learn as much on the football field as in a seminar on the classics. The resistance of all civilized nations to the aggressors in World War II came partly from the cricket fields in England and the gridirons in the States.''
Jock culture flared as a hot topic two weeks ago, in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The teen-age killers were quoted as shouting: ''All jocks stand up. We're going to kill every one of you.'' Some commentators interpreted this as the ultimate pathological response of outsiders to a world from which they had been excluded by swaggering, privileged athletes.
Coincidentally, this was just before the showing of an ABC television movie, ''Our Guys,'' about the 1989 sexual assault on a mildly retarded teen-ager by members of the Glen Ridge, N.J., football team. In the book on which the movie was based, Bernard Lefkowitz described the smug community that doted on its golden boys, lived through them, protected them and ultimately placed too great a burden on them.
Blaming sports for violence -- even post-game fan violence -- seems as shallow as pulling one thread out of the American tapestry and declaring it the signifier. But there is no question that jock culture haunts our national daydreams; while sports is no longer our default moral crucible and definer of manhood, it is still a powerful force in adolescence and a spreading influence in popular entertainment. A column here calling for comments, perhaps even answers to questions about sports' role, was reprinted on the Web (http://www.nytimes.com/forums), and continues to draw a large and energetic response.
Posters on the Web site have raised issues of race, class and gender. Chrismctae wrote: ''Jock is the male backlash against feminism. The media backlash against thinking.''
But the dominant theme has been the significance of high school sports on the psyches of adolescents, jocks and nonjocks alike.
One of the earliest postings was from Vhart3, a former high school athletic trainer, who wrote: ''Bad behavior with jocks usually begins the first time an adult makes an exception to the rule because of a student's athletic ability. I observed things such as grades being changed, school disciplinary policy waived and teachers virtually run out of their jobs because they would not coddle a star athlete.''
Barney8bc, a teacher for more than 20 years, mostly in ''self-satisfied suburbs,'' quickly added: ''Much of the problem lies in the hypocritical disconnect that students perceive between the stated goals of secondary schools and the subtext. The subtext, of course, is that sports are all important. The travel budget for extracurricular activities was greater than the instructional budget for the district. The kids knew it, and saw adults buying in to the hokum.''
While agreeing with those posters who maintained that ''sports can and do have a positive role in the lives of young people,'' Jtomon could not justify linking sports and schools. ''The ethics of sports and the ethics of education directly contradict one another and as much as anything that conflict is the cause of the Littleton tragedy. You cannot have a high school administration that openly condones an ethic of competitive glory-seeking conquerors without also creating an underclass of noncompetitive 'Losers.' ''
As a self-described skinny, 6-foot4-inch bespectacled eighth grader, Sigep-al ''felt a real sense of helplessness and worthlessness.'' But by lifting weights and wearing contact lenses, he made his high school football team and turned his social life around. He wrote: ''I liked it, but I did not like the denigration of 'nerds' and 'dorks' by those with whom I was now friendly to which I had previously been subjected. There will always be the haves and the have-nots, it is simply a phenomenon of human culture.'
Ethan Mark, who described himself as an American male in his 30's who grew up in Princeton, N.J., and has been living in the Netherlands for the past few years, sees his native country as lacking social structure and identity.
''Faced with this fundamental insecurity about who they are,'' wrote Mark, ''Americans, and youth in particular, grab hold of gender roles as one answer, with sports as an essential defining element of what it is to be 'male.'
''Sports and one's ability to participate in them become an essential determinant of one's social place and identity. Seen in this way, sports becomes a very serious business indeed -- and it is not necessarily surprising, if no less alarming, that one's failure to live up to the sports ideal can generate tremendous frustration and insecurity.''
Responding to Mark's hypothesis, Anaximander2 took issue with ''its implication that the troublemakers in schools will tend to be those who fail to live up to the jock ideal. Most of us have probably experienced the opposite: there often seems to be a mysterious connection between booze, rampant sex, petty crime and the ability to throw a football. For every Ted Kaczynski in the world there is a Darryl Strawberry, a Dennis Rodman, an O. J. Simpson, and many others.''
There were those who took issue with the very existence of the forum. Rsawyer3 posted this: '' 'Jock Culture' this week, the 'Opportunism of Journalists' next week.'' Utokia wrote: ''Whoever came up with 'jock culture haunts our national daydreams' must have been a pencil-necked, sand-eating loser! Get real!''
But Mckman1 rallied the pencil-necks, writing: ''Take heart, all you others who are nonjocks or affiliated in their false and temporal society. The whole school may call you nerds and freaks now, but it is people like you who will eat at diners manned and staffed by these buffoons one fine day.
''You will one day make decisions, invent things and come up with ideas the likes of which not even a jock on steroids can dream of in his Gatorade-filled sleep.''