It is sad but true that our sports culture all too frequently extends privileges to athletes because of their presumed special status.
Student athletes are given preferential treatment for a number of reasons, including the fact that such treatment is given to professional athletes, on which youth sports have become increasingly modeled. It also stems from the emphasis placed on winning, which makes a coach reluctant to suspend a player before the "big game."
Clearly, many high schools support such a "jock culture." In the aftermath of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, a story in The Washington Post reported on the jock culture at the school:
- A state wrestling champ was allowed to park his $100,000 Hummer all day in a 15-minute space;
- A football player was allowed to tease a girl about her breasts without fear of retribution from the teacher, who happened to be his coach;
- Sports trophies were displayed in the front hall; artwork down the back corridor;
- Hazing rituals were condoned, with upper class wrestlers allowed to twist the nipples of freshman wrestlers until they turned purple, and tennis players permitted to send hard volleys at the backsides of younger teammates;
- The homecoming king was a football player on probation for burglary; and
- Those who weren't athletes were considered outcasts, easy targets for bullying and body slams.
Columbine High School is probably no different than thousands of other high schools in glorifying athletes. In a survey of fourteen- to seventeen-year olds and parents of students, more than three quarters of the teens surveyed believed that some students or groups of students were "above the rules."
Some parents and students suggested after the Columbine massacre that that the way the school indulged jocks - their criminal convictions, physical abuse, sexual and racial bullying - intensified the feelings of powerlessness of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and their preoccupation in gaining vengeance against jocks ("All the jocks stand up." "Anybody with a white hat or a shirt with a sports emblem on it is dead.").
Fighting The Jock Culture: What Parents Can Do
While the jock culture at the nation's middle and high schools is deeply entrenched and not likely to change any time soon, there are steps parents can take to, at the very least, avoid reinforcing the negative effects of that culture :
- If your son violates no-drinking rules, don't condone such behavior by looking the other way based on a belief that because being on the team is important to his self-esteem, suspension from the team is too high a price to pay. (I recall hearing that a father of one of my son's teammates had told his son, who vomited at a school dance after drinking, to say that he had a stomach virus to avoid being suspended from the football team). Whatever you do, don't promote alcohol abuse by your son by letting him and his friends drink at your home by rationalizing that it will keep him from drinking and driving.
- If your son (or daughter) is excelling athletically, don't allow his or her school to treat him or her differently, such as by lowering academic standards to enable athletic participation, or by bending or ignoring team or league rules. Have the courage to uphold your own values, even if the school is willing to look the other way. If the school won't suspend your son and apply the rules in an even-handed way, you can.