It’s late September here in Texas — which means it’s almost October, the prime month for high school football and all its cherished traditions. It brings me back to dressing up every Friday before the game; staying up late decorating lockers with ribbons and candy; burning my fingers with the hot glue gun making a garter for my homecoming date; polishing my drill team boots in preparation for the biggest pep rally of the year, held in the town square, which the whole town would turn out to watch.
Walk into just about any recent Texas high school graduate’s closet, you’ll see pom-pom sized mums carefully hung next to letterman’s jackets, cheerleading skirts, jerseys, band uniforms — the whole nine yards. “Friday Night Lights” Coach Taylor’s iconic motto, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” — cliche that it has become — exemplifies the emotions that continue to drive us back into the bleachers year after year.
Recent news out of the NFL, however, have turned up well-known but previously little-discussed realities in the world of commodified sports, from which high school football (especially in Texas, where football is frequently likened to religion) is tragically not exempt.
On one hand are the troubling reports of brain damage in older players, the result of countless concussions sustained while playing this high-impact sport, which were highlighted in the “20/20″ documentary “League of Denial.” On the other hand are the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic abuse cases, in which young men whose aggression and dominance have been prized to the point of million-dollar salaries have translated that aggression onto their loved ones. Too often, officials and coaches, who would prefer not to tarnish the leagues’ reputations and their bottom lines, sweep these reports of disturbing behavior under the rug.
While the NFL, college and high school football leagues around the nation must continue to endeavor to find ways to make this sport safer — for all parties involved — I am encouraged by two stories from Texas high schools that came to wide attention this past week. The first is an impromptu motivational speech from Austin footballer Apollos Hester (as a side note, the fact that Apollos’ name derives from the Greek sun god seems to a coincidental testament to his sunny personality):
The other story comes from Grand Prairie, Texas. When a group of seniors decided to play a cruel prank by telling fellow high schooler Lillian Skinner that she had been nominated to the homecoming court, two of her friends made a secret pact. Having been actually chosen for the court themselves, Naomi and Anahi decided that, if one of them were elected queen, they’d give the crown to Lillian:
These stories demonstrate a timeless reality in sports as well as PR: that what we love about both sports and the news is that they bring us together. Bad news and bad sportsmanship divide, but good news, generosity and kindness unite. As Apollos would say, “sometimes in life, you’re gonna start slow. That’s OK… You’re gonna go out there, you’re gonna battle, you’re gonna fight… Do it for each other.”
As we dust off our jerseys for another season of hollering for ours favorite teams, let’s look for ways we can bring the people in our communities together. That’s good news anyone can get behind.