Has the rise of football harmed male educational attainment?

With data in recent years suggesting that men are falling behind at the college level, Gregg Easterbrook suggests this may be due to football:

Women are taking more of the available slots in college at the same time boys are spending more time playing football. Are these two facts related?

The main force must be that girls as a group are doing very well in high school, making them attractive candidates for college. But perhaps the rising popularity of football is at the same time decreasing boys’ chances of college admission.

Having ever-more boys being bashed on the head in football, while more play full-pads tackle at young ages, may be causing brain trauma that makes boys as a group somewhat less likely to succeed as students. In the highly competitive race for college admissions, even a small overall medical disadvantage for boys could matter. More important, the increasing amount of time high school boys devote to football may be preventing them from having the GPA and extracurriculars that will earn them regular admission to college when recruiters don’t come calling…

Neurology aside, most likely the largest factor in the possible relationship of rising football popularity to declining male college attendance is that teen boys who play the sport spend too much time on football and not enough time on schoolwork. When they don’t get recruited, many may lack the grades, board scores and extracurriculars for regular college admission.

Easterbrook is suggesting a correlation between two pieces of data: the declining performance of men in school compared to women and a rising interest in football. (To really get at whether this is the case, we would need to undertake an analysis where we can control for other factors.)  He suggests two possible ways in which football might be having an impact: neurological damage and time spent playing and practicing the sport. Out of these, the second sounds more plausible to me.

But I wonder if there isn’t a lot more we could say about this second possible explanation. Why would high school and college males want to spend so much time playing football? Why is it such an attractive option? Perhaps this attraction to football suggests that society doesn’t present too many other attractive options to young males. Perhaps younger males lack good role models in their personal lives or in society who do other things, respectable males who would say that getting an education is an important step in order to participate in today’s society. Do we have cool scientists or academics or do we usually highlight celebrities (particularly those who are famous for being famous) and athletes? Perhaps “manliness” is now defined by football: across the positions, it requires speed (running), violence (hitting), decision-making, and competition. Plus, everyone has been playing this on Madden for years so how hard could this be?

I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too difficult to find some data regarding high school students to see who plays football and perhaps even indicates why they play.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s