Get excited: Football is here to stay

As an avid sports fan, I believe that the implementation of football at Calvin is a strong choice, and so do many other students –– sports fans or otherwise. When I discovered the news on Instagram that Calvin is starting a football program, I was thrilled; I assumed everyone would be. 

It was not until I looked at the social media post myself that I was met with any sort of opposition to the announcement. To my surprise, many alumni took to the comment section to criticize the decision. Those opposed to the decision argued that football is a dangerous sport and the addition of it to the athletic program would be corrosive to the community at Calvin and require the exploitation of athletes. Despite these claims, I believe that incorporating football is a wise decision to invest in Calvin’s students and finances while remaining consistent with its institutional mission.

Some opponents asserted that, by implementing a football team in the athletic program, Calvin actively condemned its athletes to the realities of brain damage, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Literature explaining the connections between football and CTE, a brain condition caused by a series of micro-concussions and head trauma, is readily available, spelling out the risks of competing. In every sport, injury –– either permanent or temporary –– is a risk: a tennis player might sprain an ankle, a basketball player might fracture a rib or a hockey player might damage a vertebra. 

Injuries occur at varying rates, but all athletes must acknowledge the risk that participating in their sport entails. By playing, they consent to coping with the consequences. Calvin will not force any student to participate on the football team against their will. Students who do choose to play have ample access to any research that may outline the health risks of competing. Considering these risks, they can make a conscious decision to participate or not. People who feel the need to make this decision for them reveal their implicit distrust and disrespect towards students’ own decision-making capability. By giving students the opportunity to choose for themselves, we’re allowing them autonomy. 

By providing another outlet for students to engage with it, this decision could also strengthen the community that surrounds Calvin.

Let’s also acknowledge that football at Calvin is an investment, both financially and in community spirit. Data shows that football will likely boost the rate of enrollment. By providing another outlet for students to engage with it, this decision could also strengthen the community that surrounds Calvin. Students who typically have uneventful Saturdays on campus will now have another opportunity to go out and connect with other students. In addition, alumni in the area will have a new reason to remain connected with the community –– and even faculty will have a different outlet to connect at games with their students in a relaxed, low-stress environment. 

Opponents to the proposition note that using sports to support the university’s budget is “exploitation.” I would argue that this is anything but: it’s an exchange. Calvin is not implementing a football program because they are the only entity to gain from the move. This decision opens doors to students and offers them just as much gain, if not more. For NCAA DIII college sports, athletes are not eligible to be paid by the institution. Therefore, students competing at this level compete out of a deep love for the sport, not the desire to be compensated. While it is true that the university has financial incentive, Calvin is undeniably also creating opportunities and opening doors for its future student athletes. 

Additionally, part of Calvin’s mission statement is to challenge students to “live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.” The challenge to live wholeheartedly, difficult as it may be, is one that I truly believe that Calvin students are fully equipped to do thanks to the support of faculty, the guidance of administration and the nurturing of the institution. The belief that a football team on campus will inhibit virtuous living belittles Calvin’s effort to live out its calling. Believing that this athletic program will interfere with student life demeans the institution’s mission and reveals unspoken doubt in its students. 

Finally, introducing football to Calvin is consistent with its mission to be an inclusive community. Compared to other sports, football is statistically more racially diverse than many others like golf, lacrosse and hockey –– which are all part of Calvin’s sports program. By leaning into the diversity that football invites, Calvin opens doors to communities that are largely underrepresented in the institution, thus remaining consistent with its commitment to diversity. 

This is an opportunity to embrace the change that is coming to the community and lean into the uncertainty.

The belief that football will negatively impact Calvin’s culture at best is ignorant and at worst undermines the commitment to diversity that Calvin is so passionate about. Upon his arrival at Calvin, President Boer was met with the task of improving engagement with the community and morale among students, faculty and alumni. President Boer took the time to listen to the community’s request for football, and he delivered. This is an opportunity to embrace the change that is coming to the community and lean into the uncertainty. As we prepare for football in the future, Knight Nation: let’s ride!