Feb 6 2014, 12:42pm CST | by Forbes
Remember those days in grade school when you were dragging into the classroom? Maybe it was the invitingly warm weather. Maybe it was the winter blues. Maybe there was only two weeks left in the school year, and the last thing you wanted to do was listen to Sister Elizabeth opine on the social justice implications of the song “One Tin Soldier.” Anything would be better than sitting in that classroom.
Well, that’s probably how many Seattle students felt after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said on Monday that Seattle area schools would not officially close for what the Mayor’s office dubbed Seattle Seahawks Day. Though the Mayor backtracked on Tuesday, saying that schools could give excused absences for students who wanted to attend the parade, the decision was left up to each school’s principal, which meant, in effect, that most students were not excused to attend.
Naturally, Mayor Murray was at the Seahawks parade yesterday. And so was Washington Governor Jay Inslee. And so were Seattle Seahawks season ticket holders (and a lucky few of their school-age offspring).
Though the Seattle Public School District reported a 25% student absentee rate yesterday, most Seattle area students didn’t attend any kind of special event when the city’s first-ever Super Bowl parade started Wednesday, 11AM, near the city’s signature Space Needle and ended at the home of Seattle’s vaunted 12th Man, CenturyLink Field, where a characteristically loud celebration was held.
Does that strike you as unfair? It strikes me that way. In fact, it reminds of me when students locked Margot in a closet the only day it stopped raining on the planet Venus in the late Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day.” Seattle is like Bradbury’s vision of Venus; it rains a lot in the Emerald City. However, it would have been a day of metaphorical sunshine had students been given unconditional permission to attend the city’s rare moment in the sporting spotlight.
Now, some might argue that professional football is hardly a sport worth honoring. First, there’s growing evidence that young young athletes, especially the very football-playing students most likely to attend a Super Bowl celebration, are at risk of lifelong brain damage from playing competitive football. The state of Washington, in fact, is at the head of the class in terms of concussion awareness. The Zackery Lystedt Law – passed in 2009 in honor of concussed 13-year-old Zack Lystedt of Maple Valley, Wash., and since modeled by 35 other states and the NFL – says that “schools or leagues using school property can’t allow concussed athletes to return without medical clearance.”
The recent $765 million brain injury settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) — temporarily vacated by U.S. District Court judge Anita Brody for insufficient coverage of future brain injuries — is only the tip of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) iceberg. The cost of brain-injury-related settlements are not only going to plague the NFL and other sports leagues for years, but they are going to dramatically affect how school districts evaluate all contact sports, for fear that they too might be on the legal hook, as the issue metastasizes, Big Tobacco style, into mainstream American consciousness.
Secondly, there are the players themselves. Most everyone can applaud the loose, fun, and positive approach that Coach Pete Carroll takes to coaching football at the highest level. At the same time, school administrators working hard to stem bullying and taunting in their ranks, may be understandably cautious of further elevating the status of the highly educated, beguiling, yet trash-talking, likes of Seattle’s talented cornerback – and Stanford grad — Richard Sherman. They have no ultimate control over student hero worship, of course — more students probably know the name of Richard Sherman than the more historically important Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — but many principals may have wanted to subtly send a message on what kind of folk heroes are beyond reproach by denying permission to attend the parade.
Finally, there are a substantial number of kids who don’t care about football, or who are engaged in academic sports like debate that get scant recognition in schools across America. When we are trying to create academic athletes, especially in areas with high rates of black and Hispanic dropouts, a principal might ask, why would we want to encourage the worship of physical contact sports even more? Shouldn’t we take off school to watch the National Forensic League — the other NFL — District Debate tournament, instead? Or how about citywide chess or robotics championships?
Good points, but all wide of the goalposts. I am a former debate coach and champion debater. My documentaries, Crotty’s Kids and Master Debaters, show how debate and mentorship can raise classroom achievement. However, as I learned coaching debate, sometimes even my brightest kids needed a little bread and circus.
I wish that Seattle’s educators and politicians had overtly and officially given that morale-building signal to Seattle-area students. Yes, it might have been a slippery slope that enabled the closing of Seattle area schools for a host of other less-than-educational reasons. However, something inside tells me this situation was unique. Not only is Seattle’s 12th Man unprecedented – I saw far more Seahawks fans than Broncos fans in New York over the past week during my coverage of Super Bowl Week – but the city itself has waited a long time for something to collectively celebrate (and Amazon’s skyrocketing stock price doesn’t count).
Seattle last won a major championship with the since-departed Supersonics in 1979. The last major public event I remember up there was the deeply sad remembrance – partially ruined by the self-serving Courtney Love — for grunge music pioneer, Kurt Cobain.
This perpetually overcast metropolis needed something a bit more upbeat. As Coach Carroll noted Monday morning, “There’s no fan base that deserves this more. Nobody’s worked harder in supporting their team with more passion and love and spirit than ours. So, yeah, let’s shut down the darn schools. Let’s shut the businesses down. Let’s have a darn celebration.”
Maybe next year?
Roger (Goodell) that.
– James Marshall Crotty
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