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Commentary: Getting Out of the Toy Department

You older football fans will remember Alan Page. He was a tackle in the “Purple People Eaters” defense of the Minnesota Vikings a few decades ago. He got a law degree and worked in that field after a great football career. Eventually, he became an outstanding judge. When Sports Illustrated did a story on him, the writer asked if he missed playing football, Page replied, “No, it was kind of nice to get out of the toy department.” You would not believe the vitriolic letters that poured in to the magazine. Several subscriptions were canceled. One respondent said that he’d always respected and admired Page but after reading what he really thought about football, he had no more use for him.
 
Those feelings of blind veneration of sports and those who play them have only increased over the years. Now it’s time for some folks in this country to “get out of the toy department.”
 
Now, before some of you send me nasty e-mails or threaten to vandalize my house, you need to know that I love sports. Sports allowed me to get my first college degree. I’m a former ballplayer and a former coach. My son played college basketball. I enjoyed the recent college bowl season and will enjoy “March Madness.” But what many have lost touch with is the fact that they are just games (entertainment).  Their outcomes are not going to have an effect on human progress (or lack of it) no matter who wins or loses. A certain segment of our society needs to realize this and “get out of the toy department.”
 
Space restraints will only allow me to cite a few of the many examples I’ve run across which support my views.
 
A friend of mine played football at a Southern college. A few years after he graduated, one of the coaches asked him to accompany him on a recruiting visit. They were trying to sign a running back from a poor family.  When they drove up to the dilapidated house, they noted a new car parked in front. As they visited around the kitchen table, the parents openly revealed that the car had been made possible by Coach _____ from ______University.  As they drove away, my friend, who was incensed, kept insisting that they report the other school. Finally, the coach said, “Don’t get so upset. That new refrigerator came from us.”  All programs that operate this way--and a large number do--need to “get out of the toy department.”
 
The NCAA likes to tout college players as scholar-athletes. While that may be true in theory, in most major programs--especially in football and basketball--”athletes” always come first.  The athletic departments “own” their players. They tell them what to do and when to do it. A friend of mine taught history at one of our State universities. A starting lineman on the football team was also a top student. When he tried to sign up for my friend’s honors history class, his coaches nixed it because he would miss practice time. So much for the “scholar” part when the “toy department” is running things.
 
A few years ago, there was an outstanding athlete playing at one of our area private schools.  When I asked a teacher who taught there how he was doing in his studies, she replied, “We’re just giving him Ds to keep him eligible.”  By the end of his junior year, it was evident that his grades and test scores were not going to qualify him for NCAA play. So he transferred to one of those “sports academy” schools on our East coast for his senior year where a miracle happened.  Not only did he play a national basketball schedule but his grades and tests also did the mathematically impossible, making him a hot college prospect. Vanderbilt caught a lot of grief for not recruiting him but I knew why. We had tested him for admission to BGA. He could not qualify academically for a good high school much less a good college.  But he went to a high profile program, which managed to keep him eligible for two seasons before he went on to the NBA--another victory for the “toy department.”
 
This past signing season one of our area high schools had a five-star recruit.  A school assembly was held for the sole purpose of his announcing where he’d play football next year. All the students and faculty were there, including TV and radio stations, when he took the cap out of the bag and put it on to wild cheers and TV footage.
 
I have no problem recognizing talent but I’m waiting for that school to do the same thing when they have a National Merit Scholar. It seems to me that these accomplishments deserve just as much hoopla as those from the “toy department.”
 
And what about criminal acts?  We all remember the Alabama fan that went to jail for poisoning Auburn’s tree. He was so proud of what he did. And just this past season, what about the female Alabama fan who shot and killed another female Alabama fan because she was not distraught enough over Bama’s loss to Auburn on that last-second play?  I’m telling you folks, when sports become the reason for acts such as this, a lot of people need to “get out of the toy department.”
 
Dr. Lucas G. (Luke) Boyd is the retired principal of Battle Ground Academy. He lives in Franklin and may be contacted at coondogspress@bellsouth.net.
 
 

Posted on: 1/9/2014

 
 

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