Friday, September 15, 2006

MTV's "Two-A-Days" and Hoover High School

I should begin by saying I am an avid football fan. I played it as a boy growing up, and I now have three sons, each of whom play and each of whom I’ve coached in youth leagues. I attended every home game while an under-grad and graduate student at Notre Dame, and have missed very few home games at our high school in the 22 years I’ve been there. I believe that football can teach young men important virtues: perserverance, discipline, putting the team first, learning how to handle winning with class and losing with grace.

And yet, I was sick to my stomach after watching “Two-A-Days”, a production of MTV chronicling the Hoover, Al football team’s 2005 season.

Hoover’s football program, led by their egomaniacal coach, Rush Probst, has won 5 of the last 6 state championships in the highest classification of football in Alabama. They are unabashed in their desire to be the #1 ranked team in America, and they are well on a path toward that goal in 2006, currently ranked as #1 by USA Today.

I don’t begrudge Hoover’s desire to be the best. But after watching an episode of “Two-A-Days” (You can view a trailer of the program by clicking here), I'd observe the following:

First, it is deeply disheartening that the superintendent and Board of Education would give MTV unfettered access to Hoover High’s campus, allowing its students to be used as a tool to advance MTV's commercial interests. Without listing all the ways in which MTV both exploits and advances values incongruous with the mission of ANY school, I will simply reference a 2005 study completed by entitled "MTV Smut Peddlers: Targeting Kids with Sex, Drugs and Alcohol". Is it callous indifference or merely our impotence as adults that we would allow such a network to wander the classrooms, hallways and lockerrooms of our school? Is our judgment so blinded by our pride in a successful high school football team that we're OK with made-for-TV soap operas starring our children?

Second, though there is some idolization of cheerleaders and football players within the culture of every high school in America, “Two-A-Days” advances the celebrity status of both exponentially, confirming with the program’s younger viewers that good looks, athletic prowess, and popularity are all that truly matters. I can only hope that the faculty and parents of Hoover High are now embarassed by such a depiction of their school and their children. I suspect that they are.

Finally, despite my admiration for teams that strive to be successful, I believe that Coach Probst and the Hoover program have confused the “ends” and the “means”. Ultimately, the “end” (or goal) of our schools and athletic programs are one and the same: to create people who are both educated and virtuous. Winning games is a means to an end, not the end in itself. When we build competitive, winning programs, we can challenge our children to demand more of themselves, fostering the virtues that football can teach so well. However, when high school football teams rent hotel rooms for home games to "focus" the night before the game, when cursing at players is so commonplace that coaches think nothing of it, even when they know the cameras are rolling (and what happens when the cameras are off?), when a head coach chastises a mother whose son was sick and missed practice, even with an excuse from a doctor, and then defends his position by saying “Other programs don’t win like we do”, or when this same coach says to his players, after a loss, that he holds their future in his hands and that if they don't put out more for him, he'll nix their chance at a scholarship, or when a "team chaplain" quotes scripture in a pre-game devotion and then tells the players not to embarass their jerseys by losing, then I would suggest that winning has become THE end and not the means.

Winning at all costs--placing aside the values we want to teach our children-- is simply too expensive.