Keep the Jesus Posters, Ban the Football Team

In Kountze, Texas, high school cheerleaders had a habit of writing Bible verses on banners for school football games. The superintendent, cognizant of our pesky "separation of church and state," ordered them to stop. A district judge disagreed, and has (temporarily) allowed the Bible banners to continue, throwing editorial writers across America into a tizzy over the various abuses of law and the American way by one of the world's easiest targets: insular middle American Christians.

All this energy being expended on banning some decorations at a football game would be far better spent trying to ban the football game itself.

Oh, how exercised the editorializers have gotten! The Washington Post wants to "bench the Bible verses." In USA Today, Ken Paulson says a moment of silence should suffice. The LA Times fears that students and visitors subjected to Bible banners could feel "intimidated in an atmosphere in which the vast majority of parents assume that everyone is of like mind."

That sounds like the atmosphere of... a high school football game. Intimidating, indeed. It's not that there should be religion in public schools. There shouldn't. It's that, in the grand scheme of high school, the Jesus freaks are far less destructive to the collective morale than are the fucking football players themselves. The Christian types are obligated to at least pretend to have compassion for the nerds. The jocks, not so. When it comes to "cliques that terrorize the greater high school community," the football team is second to none.

And the football players suffer also, as if by god's wrath. The long term dangers of brain damage from concussion and subconcussive blows sustained while playing football are well-established, and terrifying. We are knowingly and deliberately sending teenagers—children—out to do irreparable hard to their bodies and minds, as their parents, teachers, townfolk, and peers cheer them on enthusiastically. That's not very responsible at all.

There's a story in the New York Times today about a doctor in New Hampshire who's asked his town's school board to end high school football, citing the increasing medical literature detailing the dangers to young people's brains. Is that so crazy? No, it is perfectly reasonable. We all tend to assume, out of habit and tradition, that football is an indispensable part of high school, along with all the broken bones and torn ligaments and brain damage that lasts a lifetime. It isn't. We would scoff at the idea of having MMA teams in our high schools. But we take football as a given. Both are, more or less, equally destructive to young bodies. We'd be horrified if parents and teachers and local sports writers demanded that 15-year-olds be allowed to knock each other out with their fists, for our own amusement. But we don't think twice when they allow the same 15-year-olds to get knocked out during football games.

Texas loves Jesus, and Texas loves football. Neither of them belong in high schools. At least Jesus-induced brain damage can be reversed.

Image by Jim Cooke.