Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until September 2021.
Featured Article: “When You Love, and Loathe, Watching the N.F.L.” by Kurt Streeter
The N.F.L.’s new season began on Sept. 10. But this sports year is unlike any other. Kurt Streeter, a Sports of the Times columnist, contemplates the return of professional football to a nation living on a raw and perilous edge and asks: Is this the distraction we really need?
In this lesson, you will examine the role of sports in society, explore the challenges facing the N.F.L. and other sports leagues this year, and consider whether fans should continue to watch games during a national crisis. In the Going Further activity, you will imagine what you would do if you were the N.F.L. commissioner and how you would lead a professional sport during these tumultuous times.
Before reading, write and share your views on the following five statements.
For each statement, state whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree. Then discuss with your classmates or explore in writing why you think the way you do.
(Note to teachers: Ideally, you might do this as a Four Corners activity, but in a time of social distancing and remote learning, you might simply ask students to stand after you read a statement and each of the four response options.)
I am an avid sports fan.
Sports are essential during a time of national crisis to provide comfort and to restore a sense of normalcy.
Professional athletes should stick to playing their sport and not express their views on political or controversial issues.
Sports is just a game — and should not be played a during time of pandemic and protests.
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins, “It was the return of a lost love.” Why do you think the author chose to describe the start of a sports season this way? How does Kurt Streeter, the author, explain the deep connections between fans and sports — especially at this time? Do any of his descriptions resonate with your own experiences?
2. Yet Mr. Streeter also writes, “The return of a lost love comes with risk.” In your own words, explain these risks and why he “loved watching the games, but I loathed it, too.”
3. What are some of the challenges the N.F.L. faces, according to the author? Which do you find most significant? Why does the coronavirus pandemic put players in football at greater risk than those in other sports?
4. Mr. Streeter provides many rhetorical questions, including:
Is the return of our most popular sport sending a false alert that we have almost conquered the virus?
Will the deep desire for normalcy, heralded by the return of the N.F.L., add to our lack of focus, our fog of denial — and the difficulty we are having in our efforts to tame not only the virus, but racism?
Did the league’s sudden, large-scale embrace of Black Lives Matter have the gloss of a put-on?
Is the N.F.L. joining in the message? We’re back. We can do this. The normal days of old are just around the bend.
Choose one to answer. What would you say to Mr. Streeter, if the two of you could have a conversation?
5. What was the role of sports during previous national crises — like the Spanish flu epidemic and World War II, according to the article? How can we apply the lessons from those experiences today?
6. The column is not written in the language of a typical sports article — it is movingly personal, often poetic and deeply philosophical. What lines were most surprising, memorable or thought-provoking and why?
7. The article ends:
The N.F.L. is back, but should we still love it?
How would you answer Mr. Streeter’s final query? Does reading the article change any of your views from the warm-up activity? If so, why? Are you more or less likely to watch the N.F.L. or other professional sports now?
1. Share your thoughts.
Answer some or all of the following prompts.
What is it like to be a sports fan in 2020? How hard was it to go without professional sports during the lockdown? What did you do instead? What has the return of sports meant to you? Now that they are back, are you as avid a fan as before?
Mr. Streeter describes the challenges in returning to something you love during this time of pandemic and protests. Are there other things in your life you find hard to return to? If yes, tell us why.
What is your opinion on some of the recent political stances taken by professional athletes — such as N.B.A. players wearing messages of social justice on their jerseys or the boycott of games by sports teams following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.? Do you think athletes are too political these days? Or not political enough?
If you were the commissioner of the N.F.L., or of any other pro sports, how would you address the issues and concerns raised in this article? Would you have canceled the season? How would you have responded to protests for racial justice? The pandemic? What protocols would you put in place to ensure player safety? To provide fans with better, more meaningful experiences?
What are your predictions for the season? Do you think the N.F.L. can get through the season without a major stoppage? Who do you think will be the Super Bowl champs?
2. Conduct further research.
A) Learn more about an athlete, past or present, who took a political stand.
To find an athlete to explore, you might start with the Times Sports Topics page, or these Times articles:
Or you might research past sports icons like Muhammad Ali and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War or learn why John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in a Black Power salute during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics.
Perhaps you would be more interested in recent examples, like quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice; Megan Rapinoe and her teammates fighting for equal pay for the United States women’s national soccer team; the W.N.B.A. superstar Maya Moore leaving her sport so that she could try to help free a man she believed was unjustly convicted; or, just this month, the tennis champion Naomi Osaka wearing masks to the court bearing the names of Black people who were victims of violence.
What issues or causes did they fight for? What was the reaction of the sports world and the public to their stance? What lessons from their struggle can we apply today?
B) Research the role of sports during a moment of national crisis in the past, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, World War I, World War II or after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
What specific challenges did the sporting world face during the crisis? How did sports help to bring communities and the nation together? How can we apply the lessons from those experiences today?
Synthesize your findings in a one-pager and share with your class.
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