The institutions described in Amanda Ripley’s article, “A Case Against Sports,” (2013) are the numerous schools that rely heavily on a culture of sports. The article begins by describing the culture shock that many foreign exchange students experience when seeing how much attention American schools give to sports over academics. Here, the culture shock exists because many countries do not place an emphasis on sports in schools, so seeing the importance of athletics in American education can be confusing for a foreign student. The effect of sports culture in American schools is that social interactions can often be influenced by a student’s relationship to sports. Students who play sports might be considered more popular, and the performance of a sports team can also have an effect on students who do not play sports. This is because of the strong symbolic culture that many schools have with sports. In one section, the symbolic culture is described in school trophy cases: “The gold and silver cups, with rare exception, symbolize victory in athletic contests, not scholastic ones” (Ripley, 2013, para. 17). This example describes how a foreign exchange student would feel after seeing all the trophies in a school’s display case upon entering the school. Because athletic achievements are prominently displayed, the school is conveying the importance of sports symbolized by the trophies. Here, the student would notice how all the trophies were dedicated to athletic achievements rather than academic achievements, and such a student would feel like he or she was entering a gym instead of a school.
Sports can also have a negative effect on non-athletes. One study described in the article found that “both men and women reported that the better their football team did, the less they studied and the more they partied” (Ripley, 2013, para. 47). This shows how sports can impact the quality of education even for non-athletes, because students who do not play sports will still identify with the success of the school team, and do worse in school when the football team is winning, because students celebrate and party more. What the article indicates about society is that the encouragement to play sports in school, and a school’s identification with the success of its sports teams, have become mores in our educational system, because sports have become understood to have value for students. Two questions that are raised after reading the article are: 1) Is the popularity of sports in schools due to the popularity of professional sports in America? Or are sports popular in America because we place an emphasis on them in our educational system? And, 2) Do sports teach values that might not otherwise be learned in the regular curriculum? The article therefore makes one think about how much of an impact school education relies on sports, and why they continue to be valued so heavily by society. Because mores are essentially enforced norms, or expected types of behavior and policy, this shows how we expect sports to play an important role within our schools without questioning why this might be the case. The main argument of the article is that sports can actually hinder academic performance, and that continuing to place such an emphasis on sports in school may actually be bad for students. To make this point, Ripley describes how the United States is falling behind in many academic areas, and that countries with better educational systems do not place such an emphasis on sports She writes, “More than 20 countries are pulling off better high-school graduation rates than we are, with mostly nominal athletic offerings” (Ripley, 2013, para. 43). There are two main reasons the article gives as to why this is the case. First, playing sports takes away from the amount of time students have to study. Instead of studying for tests, they are spending time practicing drills or playing games. The other reason is that the amount of money being spent on school sports takes away from other educational opportunities the students might have.
When researching the impact of athletics on schools, one thing that soon became apparent is how much of a connection there is between sports and school funding, especially at the college level. In academic sports, there is a clear economic motivation for wanting to have a strong sports program. While much of Ripley’s article discusses the expense of operating a sports team, such as having to pay stipends for coaches and maintaining school fields, much of the money that goes toward these things comes from sports themselves. For example, much of the money that comes from ticket sales and merchandise related to a school’s sports team is used to pay not only for costs associated with sports, but also funds other school programs. Sports in school have become an “economic juggernaut” (Koba, 2012, para. 3), which shows how sports can make money, rather than lose money for a school. A school that has a notable sports team can also more easily recruit new students. This often depends on the size of the school’s sports program and amount of success it has. The largest school sports teams, such as the Texas schools described in Ripley’s article, and successful college sports programs, rely on sports for a major part of their funding. However, the main problem with this model is that when so much attention is being given to sports, even if they are seen as financially profitable, then attention is taken away from academics. Sports have become such an important part of many school cultures that it raises questions as to whether students are learning important subjects, or if all they are learning is the importance of sports.
- Koba, M. (2012). High school sports have turned into big business. CNBC. Accessible at https://www.cnbc.com/id/100001024
- Ripley, A. (2013). The case against high school sports. The Atlantic. Accessible at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/the-case-against-high-school-sports/309447/