Last week SI.com ran my column on the axing of Hofstra’s football program. The reaction was sort of predictableâ€”lots of “You’re 100% right,” lots of “Why do you cover sports if you hate them so much?” Of the, oh, 50 e-mails, one caught my eye. It was from a man named Joe Ernst, who wrote what I thought to be a very interesting, very respectful note. I asked if he would mind my publishing the note here, and debating its merits. He was OK with the idea. Hence …
Dear Mr. Pearlman,
Normally I appreciate your work. However, I’m shocked by your latest effort regarding Hofstra’s decision to eliminate football.
Granted, football does require more resources than the average sport. But football is not the average sport. It teaches and imparts solid values to young men more than any other game known to man. It takes people from all walks of life, breaks them down and rebuilds them as one unit. Most importantly, it allows young people the chance to live out their dreams.
As lifelong football player (HS, College and Semi Professional), and a current football coach, I am all too well aware of the darker side of our game. But for you to paint coaches and players with such a broad brush does not do justice to your journalistic talents. You’ve essentially judged us all as buffoons with only personal ambition at heart. Should I judge all journalists by Jayson Blair standards?
In particular, your statement that coaches are “suspect men” who would otherwise sell used cars is incredible. True, there are some terrible coaches. But most are dedicated, educated, professional men whose sole mission in life is to see the young men under their care achieve their dreams and live their lives (playing and personal) as productive members of society. Further, the “subpar students” are fewer and farther between. The students who do have trouble are most often the ones who have not been afforded the same educational opportunities in their community that most Americans get. These students aren’t left behind, rather they receive extra help, tutors, study halls, etc.At places like Ohio State and Penn State, graduation rate is just as important as on-field success.
So in short, I ask you to print my response so we have an even debate. I’d also ask you to make mention of the fact that the same Hofstra you lauded in your article, also made news this year for completely ignoring the rights of one of their students who was falsely accused of a horrible crime.
OK, first, I want to again say that I love this letter. Joe sounds like a great guy, and I have no doubt that he’s the sort of coach you’d want your child to play for. I also think he makes some very fair pointsâ€”my column paints people too broadly, which isn’t fair. And Hofstra certainly has its flaws.
I suppose the area I disagree most with Joe is the value of the game of football. To begin with, his depiction of the game (“It takes people from all walks of life, breaks them down and rebuilds them as one unit.”) is just as true in basketball, baseball, lacrosse, field hockey and soccer as it is in football. The big difference, to me, is that while the aforementioned sports rely on intellect, analysis and mental deftness, football coaches rely on the mantra, DON’T THINKâ€”JUST DO. It’s extremely militaristic in approach, whichâ€”though great if you plan on being a soldierâ€”really doesn’t apply well to the real world. Yes, people have to work together. But most places I know want employees who are mentally quick and curious; who don’t need to be told what to do; who don’t respond to orders being barked their way.
Also, while football makes certain dreams come true, how many college players have attended a university as a so-called “student-athlete,” only to leave and find themselves lost and bewildered. Yes, Ohio State has a nice football graduation rate. But what classes were they taking? And how in the world is it reasonable for athletes to be full-time academics while also practicing/playing as if it were a job? The whole thing is so woefully flawed; so sad; so … unrighteous. In a sense, I equate it to religionâ€”nice in concept, but ruined by those calling the shots.