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Jim Murray

It's Time All Schools Went Back to a Passing Game

January 03, 1986|JIM MURRAY

There are times when I feel I have totally outlived my time in this world. I feel as if I am walking through a spaceship in a cocked hat and powdered wig and buckled shoes.

I can't believe I hear some of the dialogue coming out of the mouths of sweet young things in the movies these days, and I'm totally unprepared for the things that pass for song lyrics. I'm a "Moonlight and Roses" man myself.

But I really wanted to bang myself on the side of the head the other day when I was on vacation and chanced to tune in on one of those cable public affairs shows--I forget which one, they all look alike. The governor of Texas was on the hot seat explaining himself, somewhat sheepishly I thought, to a couple of interrogators who seemed intent on tearing him to pieces for some terrible malfeasance he had committed in office.

At first, I thought maybe he had been caught stealing from the public till or cheating on his income tax. Or maybe he had just sanctioned a toxic waste dump next to an orphanage.

I mean, the guy was really squirming. He seemed ashamed of himself.

There was another guy on the split screen and he was really contemptuous of the governor. He was going for the governor's jugular. It was as if Eliot Ness had finally gotten Al Capone on the witness stand and was throwing the book at him.

I mean to tell you, the way he was bullying the governor, I expected at any minute to hear him say: "All right, Gov, come clean. What did you do with the baby and where did you bury the clothes?" The governor looked as if he needed a combination of F. Lee Bailey, Clarence Darrow and Paul Caruso.

So, I got interested. If there's anything I like, it's to see the criminal element get its just desserts. I figured the Gov had just done something heinous, had just topped Jack the Ripper. I wondered, hopefully, if Texas had the death penalty.

Then I found out what his crime was.

Know what this bounder was accused of? What this knave had the nerve to try to foist off on the people of Texas?

He was insisting that high school students in the state get passing grades in order to be able to participate in extracurricular activities like football!

Honest.

Did you ever imagine any politician would endorse such cruel and inhuman punishment as that? It made his prosecutor practically froth at the mouth.

Now, this is clearly an infringement of a fellow's inalienable rights, right? I mean, a guy has a right to flunk in our society and still represent himself as a member of the varsity football team, right?

Well, take me out, coach. I'm so far behind the times I didn't even think the point was arguable. Where I grew up--when I grew up--it wasn't. No pass, no play was as taken for granted as homework.

I couldn't even understand what was so revolutionary about it when Rita Walters proposed it for the L.A. school board. Get a C, or get a job. It was always thus where I went to school. The thinking always was that someone who was failing school needed all the time he could get at the books and couldn't go frittering it away on children's games.

Under the new philosophy, the functional illiteracy rate in this great country of ours has gone up to 27 million. I guess that's the inalienable right of every American, too, stupidity. I gather they're going to take the governor of Texas to court to insure the continuation of that right.

It appears to be the proposition of the governor's opponents that education is irrelevant to someone who can run the football 100 yards in 9 1/2 seconds. Or, for that matter, who can sing the lead in the school play or throw a baton higher than anyone else on campus.

You are interfering with their economic well-being by insisting they pass tests. Why does a guy have to learn to add when he can get Howard Slusher to do it for him? What kind of an old-fashioned notion is it that a football hero be able to read and write? Why does he have to learn 26 letters when all he will need are X's and O's?

Fine, but why stop there? If a guy can be in school at all without qualification, why not medical school? Engineering school?

I got a better idea. If athletes can get in school without qualifications, why can't students get on the football team? I mean, some 97-pound weakling can present himself to the coach some day and say, "I'd like to play fullback and you'd better let me or I'll get 20 storefront lawyers on your case."

Why not? If we're not going to have standards in our society, what's wrong with a Super Bowl team that wears glasses?

If students and profs are sick of their classrooms being filled with large, furry mammals from the Pleistocene Age, why not fill the backfields with pimply-faced wimps from the honor roll? It cuts both ways, doesn't it? If the university is going to enroll non-students, let it field non-athletes.

Does the state of Texas have a sacred obligation to fill the Houston Oilers' roster? Or to fill the hospital rosters? The laboratories? The supreme courts? You can't do that if you can't flunk people. All you can fill is the illiteracy roster. Which is full enough.

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