The Merits of Sitting in Chairs
Earlier today, the LA Times chief High School Sports correspondent, Eric Sondheimer (@latsondheimer), typed out the following tweet, likely looked it over once for spelling mistakes, thought to himself “yeah… this is the good shit,” then hit send.
Now, despite what you may think, I’m not here to debate the merits of e-sports in high schools. While it’s a growing category of sport, it is not a category I am particularly familiar with, nor that I hold strong opinions on.
People having shitty opinions, on the other hand, is very much within my wheelhouse.
Eric has been the prep sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times for the past 21 years. Before that, he spent 17 years at the Daily News as prep editor, broken up in the middle by an 18 month stint at National Sports Daily as their West Coast correspondent. He is a fantastic reporter, who profiles a wide range of sports, athletes, and schools across Los Angeles. He takes time to understand the intricacies in the Los Angeles prep sports world, including the often complicated CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Southern Section rules about transfers and playoffs, which he distills down for readers of his column in an easily understandable way. He’s a professional, competent reporter with nearly four decades of experience.
One of the sports that tends to dominate Eric’s writing is football. During the season he recaps games, profiles players, keeps readers up to date with standings by tracking games across one of the nations biggest football regions, and is remarkably diligent about tracking transfers and coaching changes between the powerhouse schools.
Within the 2 hours following his initial tweet, Eric retweeted this tweet from the Orange County Register.
From the OC Register article, Mase Funa is a “Mater Dei All-County linebacker” who “holds scholarship offers from USC and UCLA among others,” and who suffered a knee injury which will require surgery.
There are merits to reporting on high school sports — it shows that if you work hard, your hard work can be recognized. It promotes community bonding that, while it can be both positive and negative, is an inescapable reality of American society as it is now set up. It’s also just fun — as a former high school athlete myself who lived in LA, there is the simple joy and excitement of getting profiled or mentioned in a newspaper article.
However, we too often don’t examine the ethics of writing these articles. Stories about such injuries, ones that could have lifelong implications for someone who is just 16 years old, rarely point out the possible long term complications and side effects. Eric’s opinion, delivered in the format of Twitter which strips away most nuance, is that e-sports are bad because they result in “kids sitting in a chair,” a fair point in a world where people seem to be less active and spend less time outside. But to be at best dismissive, and at worst flippant, about an activity which I’m sure Mr. Sondheimer has little understanding of, while simultaneously ignoring the long-term damage that is caused to literal children by the sports which he writes about for his living, seems to be short sighted.
I was a high school football player in Los Angeles. I knew very little of concussions, or of how to actually take care of my body, and thus, at 23 years old, I have back pain, knee pain, joint pain, and often find I can’t remember things — all things I attribute to my time spent playing football. If given the opportunity to go back with what I know now, I likely would have made some different decisions as to how I played the game, possibly even choosing to refrain from playing the sport — a sport that allowed me to bond with new friends after moving midway through high school, gain lifelong mentors, and establish confidence in my mental and physical strength in a time where I had little confidence in either. If I ever am a father to children, I will advise them not to play football.
I don’t think Eric shouldn’t cover prep football. I also don’t think Eric shouldn’t have opinions about E-sports and their place in the wider high school athletics ecosystem. However, the irony of mocking changes in how high schools think about competition purely because it ends up with more kids having their butts in seats while simultaneously glorfying and encouraging athletes to continue participation in a sport where their long term health is at much greater risk, seems to me to be pretty fucked up.
I hope Mase Funa’s surgery is successful. I hope he is encouraged by his coaches, teammates, training staff, school, and family to be diligent with his recovery and to not rush back into playing again for the minute chance of one day making a living from playing football. I hope his knee regains its previous strength post-surgery, and that this article ends up being a tiny blip in a long life full of happiness and health.
But there are no guarantees of that. And he wouldn’t get this kind of injury sitting in a chair.