As a sports enthusiast, I believe bringing football to Calvin is a strong choice, as do many other students — sports fans or not. When I saw the news on Instagram that Calvin was launching a football program, I was thrilled; I assumed everyone would be.
It wasn’t until I watched the social media post myself that I encountered some sort of backlash against the ad. To my surprise, many former students took to the comments section to criticize the decision. Opponents of the decision have argued that soccer is a dangerous sport and that adding it to the sports program would be corrosive to the Calvin community and necessitate the exploitation of athletes. Despite these assertions, I believe the integration of football is a wise decision to invest in Calvin’s students and finances while remaining consistent with its institutional mission.
Some naysayers have claimed that by putting a football team into the athletic program, Calvin was actively condemning his athletes to the realities of brain damage or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Literature explaining the links between football and CTE, a brain condition caused by a series of micro-concussions and head injuries, is readily available, outlining the risks of competition. In all sports, an injury – permanent or temporary – is a risk: a tennis player can sprain his ankle, a basketball player can fracture a rib or a hockey player can injure a vertebra.
Injuries occur at varying rates, but all athletes must recognize the risk involved in playing their sport. By playing, they agree to face the consequences. Calvin will not force any student to participate in the football team against their will. Students who choose to gamble have ample access to any research that may describe the health risks of competition. Given these risks, they can make a conscious decision whether or not to participate. People who feel the need to make this decision for them reveal their implicit mistrust and lack of respect for students’ decision-making abilities. By giving students the opportunity to choose for themselves, we give them autonomy.
By providing another outlet for students to engage with, the move could also strengthen the community surrounding Calvin.
We also recognize that football at Calvin is an investment, both financial and community. Data shows that football is likely to increase enrollment. By providing another outlet for students to engage in, the move could also strengthen the community surrounding Calvin. Students who typically have uneventful Saturdays on campus will now have another opportunity to hang out and connect with other students. Plus, local alumni will have a new reason to stay connected with the community – and even professors will have another way to connect in games with their students in a relaxed, low-stress environment.
Opponents of the proposal note that using sports to support the university budget is “exploitation”. I would say that it is anything but: it is an exchange. Calvin is not implementing a football program as they are the only entity to benefit from the move. This decision opens doors for students and offers them just as much gain, if not more. For NCAA DIII varsity sports, athletes are not eligible to be paid by the institution. Therefore, students who compete at this level compete out of a deep love for the sport, not a desire to be paid. While it is true that the university has financial incentives, Calvin undeniably creates opportunities and opens doors for its future student-athletes.
Additionally, part of Calvin’s mission statement is to challenge students to “live wholeheartedly as agents of Christ’s renewal in the world.” The challenge of living wholeheartedly, however difficult, is one that I sincerely believe that students at Calvin are uniquely equipped to meet through the support of faculty, the guidance of the administration, and the education of the institution. The belief that a campus football team will prevent a virtuous life belittles Calvin’s effort to live his calling. Believing that this sports program will interfere with student life belittles the institution’s mission and reveals unspoken doubt among its students.
Finally, introducing football to Calvin is consistent with its mission to be an inclusive community. Compared to other sports, soccer is statistically more racially diverse than many others like golf, lacrosse, and hockey — all of which are part of Calvin’s sports program. By leaning into the diversity that football invites, Calvin opens doors to communities that are vastly 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 at best negatively impact Calvin’s culture is ignorant and at worst undermines the commitment to diversity that Calvin is so passionate about. Upon arriving at Calvin, President Boer was given the task of improving community engagement and morale among students, faculty, and alumni. President Boer took the time to listen to the community’s demand for football, and he responded. This is an opportunity to embrace the change that is coming to the community and lean into the uncertainty. As we prepare for the football of the future, Knight Nation: Let’s Roll!