By David Hauser
What do you do when the young people—schooled by a society hungry to teach unity, teamwork, and togetherness via the lessons from coaches and wins/losses in teams sports, and further empowered by the scholarships and education afforded to them by their play—harness all these teachings and join together to challenge the very system that insisted upon their need to internalize the value of teamwork in the first place?
This is the paradoxical quandary Northwestern University (along with the entire college athletics system) is left to sit with following the landmark decision from the NLRB Chicago regional office suggesting Northwestern football players have the right to unionize as a collective labor group.
Team sports are the training ground for where many of us learn to work in groups and unite toward common goals with one another. As a psychologist working on both ends of the developmental spectrum, with parents and kids, I see more smiles and faces light up when talking about their Saturday mornings on the field with teammates (or sidelines with fellow parents), than of just about any other experience. Sports, at their very best, are community.
Nowhere is this more visible than in college sports (especially college football), which inspires a brand of zealotry, passion, and connection among Americans to a degree not seen in any other sports landscape. Regions develop and exhibit an entire collective identity based upon their football conference–brace yourself for an overdose of cocksureness if you ever dare engage a Southerner by suggesting any degree of ambiguity within the hierarchy of college football conferences (PSST-they may have a few strong opinions about the SEC).
In a historical era where organized religion attendance shrinks and the middle class work day expands (subsequently reducing opportunities for social gathering), more and more of our precious opportunity for communion is housed within stadium parking lot tailgates, high school homecoming pep rallies, and Saturday mornings at the little league field. Our children are coached and encouraged to form and grow together as one unit, their fans band together around them in support, and within sports a primal need for togetherness is offered to a spiritually hungry group of people finding fewer and fewer outlets and time for union.