Is football important? For those reading this article, the answer is most likely pretty easy…YES!
Knowing the 2020 season can be stripped away at any moment is a friendly reminder. From a much broader scope, the answer becomes less clear.
Can a society exist without football? Yes. So, if it is not essential, why is it important?
The simple answer to a complex question resides in the fact that the game teaches life lessons. Okay, but so do so many other extracurricular activities. But what makes football unique is the life lessons it can teach and how it teaches them.
Football is essential because of the process in which one must undertake to be successful. ANYONE can follow that process to achieve individual success within the game’s structure. In our modern, politically-correct culture, football sticks out like a sore thumb. The general population assumes what the sport teaches is a shallow understanding of football’s purpose.
Football teaches buying into something more substantial than yourself, a family by choice. Selflessness. Hard work and industry. Commitment. Discipline. Courage. Honor. Our enlightened society portrays these traditional masculine virtues as harmful. These characteristics are undeservingly associated with hyper-masculinity and violence. These virtues are vital. They should not be something any man should be afraid of, but celebrated as developing a foundation of excellence.
Football teaches masculinity primarily in two forms. The first is the warrior path. A win at all cost, yes sir mentality, approach to life. The second is a well-rounded approach and perspective. It is the job of high school programs to build a culture ensuring that when a player leaves, they are more than what they demonstrate on Friday nights.
The Iliad is an excellent analogy for what the sport celebrates. On Friday nights, we value Achilles-like tenacity and behavior. Achilles was a man driven by the ultimate commitment to his soldiering ways – Strong, powerful and not allowing anything to diverge him from his path. All characteristics we would assume would construct the ultimate football player.
Achilles, in his blind commitment, was also brutal, inhumane, and destructive. These characteristics are celebrated on Friday nights. As coaches, we traditionally want violent execution of assignments. Execution wins football games. Eleven Achilles on the field win many, many football games.
The traits Achilles demonstrates in The Iliad tend to be assumed by people outside the sport as football’s sole focus. These characteristics are not solely what football coaches are building. In totality, they are not what is best for young men as they wander into the world after football.
Achilles is a Greek Hero. However, he is not the hero that solely defines the mission of the game. While we wish those warrior behaviors occur in the correct arena at times, they are not what creates well-rounded men. To be an excellent son, brother, student, or in the future, a father and husband, you must be more than just your inner Achilles. Those masculine roles demand patience, respect, emotional intelligence, the consciousness of being, empathy, and the ability to love unconditionally.
For those who are involved with the game, they know it is more than just developing Achilles. It is about including Hector.
Hector is not just a warrior. Even with his royal status, Hector is a torchbearer. He leads his men into battle, even in the face of his mortality. Achilles, whose mother dipped him in the River Styx, was blessed with near-immortality. Hector was a loving father and husband whose job was to be a warrior. His career provided his life with purpose. The reasoning behind that purpose was not just a blind commitment to a warrior lifestyle. He fought for his people, and most importantly, his family. Hector served a purpose larger than himself.
Before his final battle against Achilles, Hector removed his helmet when his son started crying, seeing his father in military garb. Hector turned off his warrior persona to be a father and love his child in his waning moments. Hector was not perfect. In the reality of death at the hands of Achilles, he ran. Hector failed to face his fears. Hector eventually built up the fortitude to face known defeat and valiantly fought until he took Achilles’ sword in the chest. When it was said and done, Hector was in control of who was.
None of us ever choose to lose. Winning all the time and winning every day, is unrealistic and shortsighted. One must choose to focus on the process of being able to earn a win and handle a loss. Then when the winning comes, one needs to cherish it for all its worth.
We shall sometimes falter. Remember, these young men playing are teenage boys. They will make mistakes and sometimes run. If these men rise from their errors to battle like Achilles with the love and bravery of Hector, they live the reason football is so important. The game allows young men to develop into everyday heroes.
When players graduate, the goal is for them to think and function as individuals while serving a larger purpose, not act like a drone to orders. Football is the ultimate team sport and requires group buy-in. For program success, individual thought is imperative.
Outsiders tend to believe we operate as a group of men in a hyper-masculine, group-think environment. We are not. We are a brotherhood of individuals who chose to love each other for our differences. Our pursuit of excellence is the same, but each player and coach bring something special to that pursuit. It is a game that transcends so many social issues by advocating differences. Those differences may make us uncomfortable. Some may challenge our chosen culture of acceptance, but it does not matter. There are only a few types of individuals that coaches should not tolerate – people who are unwilling to accept their teammates and their purpose, people who only champion themselves and people who blatantly create a destructive environment. Those people undermine the secondary aims of the game, constant growth, and to have fun!
Is there more to life than football? Yes.
Does football teach more than football? Absolutely.
There are non-replicable, valuable lessons learned in a locker room. The game allows for the development of real relationships beyond the classroom. It properly integrates discipline into a process of growth. Football provides young individuals the opportunity to pursue something greater than themselves and learn what it means to become men in a society of misplaced fundamental values.
Does society need football to exist? No, but I sure do not want to live without it.
Yours in the Pursuit of Excellence,
Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Pete Kempf, former DeKalb High School head football coach. Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers.