EDUCATION MATTERS: The problem with the Chargers

By Marsha Sutton


The Chargers lost The Big Game. Devoted fans are crushed, despondent and bewildered. How could it happen, they ask?

How come people care so much, I ask?

Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I opened up my San Diego Union-Tribune as always, and prepared to read the newspaper cover to cover in less time than the previous week. It’s getting harder and harder to linger over the paper with my morning coffee.

The thinning of the local daily newspaper is old news. But what struck me that morning was the disparity in the length of each of the five sections. The Front Page section was eight pages, the Local section was six pages, Business/Classified was four pages, Quest was four pages ... and the last section? That was Sports, and it was 10 pages, the thickest of all.

I understand how important diversions like sports can be, especially in bad times. People want to focus on something other than the world’s woes. They want to be distracted from pressing personal problems, and cheering on the home team provides the perfect outlet.

But when the populace turns practically suicidal after the Chargers lose, I begin to wonder what kind of priorities we have as a people.

In my trusty daily paper this Tuesday morning, I read an editorial that described the frustration, grief and anger that Chargers fans are feeling over Sunday’s loss. Those were the exact words: frustration, grief and anger.

As an education writer, here’s where my jealousy rears its ugly head: Why are people so upset over this when other issues like education are more relevant? Why is there so much coverage of sports when education — and all the other international and national stories of importance — is shoved aside to make room for descriptions of the athletic prowess and personal missteps of over-excited, overpaid, over-reported sports heroes?

I’m no wet blanket. I watched the game on television on Sunday like so many other people, although it was the first time I watched all season. I cheered for the Chargers when they did good (mainly those cheers were confined to the first quarter), and I reveled in the possibility that we’d have a champion football team at last.

I even searched for my old lightning bolt lapel pin and dusted it off, ready for wear again from that season way back when, in whatever year it was that San Diego went to the Super Bowl and famously lost. Others will remember exactly what year it was — and probably where they were and even what they were wearing on the day of the game. But that year has faded from my memory, along with all the other unimportant details and dizzying statistics that mesmerize fanatic sports fans.

So I was bummed too, momentarily. But nothing like the tears being shed. Honestly, you’d think everyone’s favorite grandma just passed on.

And what about the spiteful words condemning the team, the coach and especially that poor kicker?

Yes, I know Nate Kaeding is highly paid. Very highly paid. And he should have hit those field goals. But, oddly, I keep thinking of his mother as he’s bombarded with so much hate.

Geez, doesn’t anyone have kids who screwed up under pressure? An 8-year-old who missed at the free throw line when the score was tied? A critical goal kick on the high school soccer field that went wide? A strikeout in the bottom of the ninth that lost the Little League game?

Perhaps sympathy, not rage, should be leveled on the guy.

Or how about this? Maybe he has to pay a penalty to society. Perhaps we should ask Kaeding to donate a portion of his oodles of salary dollars to a public cause for every field goal he misses — double the payment for championship games.

Maybe he pays to fix broken windows at a local school in disrepair. Or he has to buy all new textbooks and supplies for schools and kids who can’t afford them.

Or better yet, he adopts a low-performing school for a year and uses his super-hero status — and his super-hero paycheck — to bring attention and resources to the cause of raising student achievement.

I like that idea. Every time Philip Rivers throws an interception, maybe he should have to underwrite the cost of food for a month at a homeless shelter. Fumbles? Penalties? Everything should come at a price.

After all, it’s a shame to waste all that money on over-valued athletes who are really just high-priced entertainment figures who run fast and jump high.

There must be a way to channel everyone’s energy for the Chargers into productive areas of society that could use some fresh outrage. Might I suggest education?

It’s mystifying, this reaction to the loss. Frustration, grief and anger?

How about frustration over the way schools have had their budgets slashed in the past two years? How about grief over the deplorable dropout rate that leaves 30 percent of students without a high school diploma? How about some anger over the huge numbers of children who aren’t learning up to basic minimal standards?

When the Park View Chula Vista Little League baseball team won the 2009 World Series, the players received parades and accolades and became a symbol of pride and a cause for joyous celebration. Would we have done the same for these admirable young men if they had won the speech and debate world title instead?

The real game was not played on Sunday at Qualcomm. It’s being played each day right now — in every home where there’s not enough money for food and rent, in every impoverished community where homeless people wander the streets, in every decaying urban center where hungry children sit in crumbling schools without proper instruction or care.

I’m bracing myself for vocal objections, but the bottom line is this: The name of this column is Education Matters. And education does matter; sports does not.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at: