A lot of other Americans are glad Texas calls itself the Lone Star State. For one thing, they sleep better knowing that Rick Perry is not their governor.
Some would even be glad to see him lead Texas out of the Union. Those who are cheering his threat of secession can hardly wait to see how Perry and his rangers would cope by themselves with their non-existent border on the south. They wish all the crime and turmoil flowing back and forth could be left to Texas alone to fix.
If Perry were bilingual, border watchers might think his aspirations are to capture the presidency of a new nation – “Texico.” (Would Texaco sue for copyright infringement?) His dreams of the White House are long gone. By now, he may have figured out which of three federal departments he would abolish — Commerce, Education, Energy — if not all, were he in the White House. Again, most Americans sleep better knowing that he isn’t.
It’s Education, of course! He runs at the front of all the Republican governors in their race to the bottom in public education. According to the Associated Press, the National Education Association has found that Texas has “fallen to 49th nationally in per pupil spending, decreasing $700 in the 2012-13 school year. . . Texas currently spends $8,400 per student, $3,055 less than the national average . . . average teacher salary is $48,110 annually . . . nearly $8,300 less than the national average.” All of this, of course, on Perry’s watch, and by his hand.
In 2011 the Legislature responded to the recession by cutting $5.4 billion from biennial state funding for schools. More than 600 school districts have brought suit to restore the cut. A state judge has ruled that the cut is unconstitutional because it leaves schools too poorly funded and was not spread equitably. Attorney General Abbott, a Perry henchman, has promised to appeal. The state Supreme Court won’t rule on it before next year. Meantime, the schools and children are stuck deeper in 49th place or worse. Schools “perrylized” in “Perryland.”
If this distinction makes the Lone Star State proud, other States feel no envy. They have no wish to be perrylized. They wish it far less for the nation.
As the cut squeezes Texas school districts still harder, no high school has yet complained that its football program has been weakened. The governor wouldn’t stand for that. After all, football is the state religion. And with A&M now in the Southeastern Conference — and led by the nation’s premier quarterback — it will be even more so!
Never will football take a back seat to academics in Texas. Marching bands may yet feel some budget pain, as might the cheerleading squads, but the acid test will be whether the girls athletic programs suffer. Should they be trimmed to help football, a school may need protection from more than softball and soccer moms. It could land them in court, saddled with attorney fees that might run more than the football budget.
The American Civil Liberties Union may be looking for just such a case, to harden the right of equal protection. Where, the ACLU might ask, is the real protection of teenager football players. The game’s popularity — it is now the largest American entertainment industry — lures them to want to make the team. Peer and parental pressure usually feed that desire also, yet the risk of injury might be found to outweigh all of that, in the course of a sane judicial test.
The courts could find that teenage boys are not mature enough to reach sound independent judgment of their self interest and safety, when they are under pressure to volunteer for this hard and uncompensated labor, whose rewards accrue slimly if at all to most players, but swell university budgets and fill the deep pockets of the National Football League, its member teams and owners, while fattening the black-sheep brother industry of gambling.
If academics don’t matter enough — surely they should — then the equal protection of children has to work. If parental ego and the lust for stardom is putting them at risk, then the courts should intervene. President Obama is exactly right, “If the children aren’t safe, nothing else matters!” Why then isn’t the Justice Department coming to their rescue?
The football and gambling industries coming to war with the legal profession, for the sake of children? Now there’s a battle that would give cable news and the ESPN a feeding frenzy for years! It could be the new career that Governor Perry dreams of — play-by-play analysis of a match that he and the Lone Star State have done so much inadvertently to bring about.
Concussions are part of the game, and always have been, a small price to pay for such a big show. Right? So why all the fuss now? They are an occupational hazard that makes the largest entertainment industry an industry. What could be a better model for this risk than the ever-more-daring stuntmen of Hollywood? Not to be outdone, the plays in football grow steadily more daring and dangerous, as players grow bigger, stronger and faster. The more show biz changes, the more it stays the same. Children be damned.
The insanity of it can’t be hidden by better helmets. The children are least to blame. They grow up spending far more weekend hours, often with dads, cheering football thrills on TV, than they ever spend in church. Or on homework. How could they fail to feel it’s religion?
Even as it has become an entertainment investment bigger than Hollywood, football grows from the same root. Overblown egos everywhere, thirsting for glory, fame and fortune. Parents rich and poor driven by the same desire to raise a star — in movies, music or sports, it matters not. In football, the suits are numerous, and the demand relentless. With television, glory, fame and fortune are all waiting.
In such dreams, we are all Texans: Perrylized in Perryland.
Frank Mensel — March 2013