Why Football? Why Not?

Bruce Powell

For the past 36 years, as principal or head of a Jewish high school, I have dealt with the question of whether “to tackle or not to tackle.” The arguments for and against can be compelling and cogent.


Those “for” hosting a tackle football program argue that no other sport can unify a school in such a powerful way. The lure of “Saturday night lights” following the Havdalah light can produce high student morale, make Jewish boys feel part of the society at large, and engender pride as no other single high school activity can. And, from the standpoint of our marketing and admissions (read: recruitment) departments, what could possibly be a better advertisement for a Jewish high school than “big time” football, in a real stadium, with the roar of the crowd, and the grandeur of those very cool uniforms? Indeed, instituting football would certainly be a dream come true for our marketing professionals.


So, if the sport is so compelling, so powerful in its reach, and so “normal” within the American high school scene, why not host the sport in every Jewish high school that has the population to support it?


For those “against” having a tackle football program, the arguments usually run something like this.


First, in Jewish school cultures that promote peace, are usually non-violent, and deeply value ideals of kindness, football becomes the “anti-culture.” It promotes a form of “warfare,” is reminiscent of the ancient Roman Forum where Jews and Christians were eaten by lions, and works against some of our core Jewish values such as the importance of good health and the avoidance of causing harm to another human being.


Second, the football culture and ethos often tends to dominate the overall school culture, drawing attention away from ideals most of us hold supreme. An exclusiveness often grows up around super athletes that involves “in” and “out” crowds. It often separates kids into the realm of “football cool” and everyone else, and creates a highly visible distinction between those who are “cool” and those who are not. Many argue that instead of unifying a community, the reality is the opposite.


Of course, there is the financial cost and the liability issues surrounding serious injuries. These issues fall squarely on the desk of the Head of School and the school board’s finance and legal committees. The national discussion regarding head trauma or other serious long-term injuries also looms large in the moral conscience of our schools’ leaders.


When making a final determination, schools must ask some guiding questions: What do we want our culture to look like? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a football program? What are the financial and moral costs? And, of course, is football good for the Jews?

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HaYidion Athletics Winter 2015
Winter 2015