NFL and Dodgeball

Physical Education as a whole has a confidence problem. We are constantly worried about our brand. Don’t call us gym teachers because we don’t teach gym. Make sure you dress up so people won’t think X Y or Z about you. Let’s latch onto the term physical literacy because it legitimizes us as teachers. After all, if other teachers teach numeracy and literacy we will fit right in! Dodgeball is the devil! Not only should students not play it in class no one anywhere should play it! We feel inferior to everyone. I understand it completely. When people ask me what do I do I tell them I teach Physical Education and I cringe. I imagine what these people who may or may not be in education are thinking. I follow my job title up with a quick elevator speech of what a Quality Physical Education program look like. 

2016-12-18_0044.pngThe reason that I bring up all this up is that the NFL is having a dodgeball competition played by the professional players during the pro bowl. The audacity of them! The unmitigated gall! How could the NFL who supports physical education through the
Fuel up to Play 60 program do this to us? SHAPE America has an official position against it after all! Don’t they understand how much we have been stigmatized by that game? That game has single handily brought down the reputation of our noble profession. When people play that game a Physical Education teacher loses their whistle.

Let’s dissect the NFL and their affiliation with SHAPE America and physical education in general. Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by National Dairy Council and NFL, in collaboration with the USDA, to help encourage today’s youth to lead healthier lives. Physical Education and Health educators can apply for grants of $4,000 is available per school year to support teachers and their students as they work to implement Plays from the Fuel Up to Play 60 Playbook. They also provide wellness activities that are part of this program are based on best practices and encourage students to take a leadership role. Fuel Up to Play 60 is for every student, and there are ways for them to get involved in their own wellness — online and offline — every day of the year. We can safely say that the NFL and physical education have a great relationship. 

Now let’s look at some big stories that have recently come from the NFL. We have multiple players arrested for domestic violence. That is a nice way of saying that grown men who are physically at their peak brutally assault women who cannot protect themselves.

The book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” reports that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

Read that again. The NFL covered up the effects that concussions had on their players. Do you think that this didn’t affect high school players as well? Don’t you think they were suffering concussions when they were playing as well?

As SHAPE America members are we more worried about grown men playing dodgeball outside of a physical education class than what the NFL actually stands for? Where was this worry and outrage when we were accepting support from a league that employed physical abusers and covered up the destruction of their employees? No one said anything then. Suddenly play some dodgeball during pro bowl weekend and we care. We are outraged that an activity that has a high mvpa rate and is clearly a game that will increase a person’s physical literacy, would be held by an organization that supports SHAPE America.

Dodgeball is a fantastic game that should be played outside of physical education class. It should be encouraged for anyone who is not fearful of getting hit in the face to play. We do not play it in class due to the fact that it creates an imbalance of power and some students have the RIGHTFUL fear of getting hit in the face. People will get hit in the face when they play. If you understand this may happen and you willingly take that risk the game is a fantastic calorie burner.  

If we as a profession are worried about how we are perceived, start to create a Quality Physical Education program. Allow parents and stakeholders to see what you are doing in your class. Volunteer to be on school committees to show your dedication as well as how much of an asset you are to the team. If you want to make real changes don’t petition the NFL, join your state AHPERD or SHAPE. Dodgeball is not the problem. We ARE THE PROBLEM.

We have to be advocates for our program. We have to take on the team of teachers that we work with that are simply rolling out the ball. We have to start finding professional development outside of school hours to better ourselves. We have to show that we are more than just sports. We are the only subject that can teach the whole child. Grown adults playing dodgeball at a half time does not worry me. What worries me is the people posting videos on Twitter or Facebook that don’t tie into the standards. What worries me is a physical education teacher not being able to articulate why we won’t play dodgeball in our class to their students. What worries me is the policing of activities outside of our class because we are worried about how it makes our profession look. What worries me is that we are a profession that is twisting in the wind unsure of our identity.



5 thoughts on “NFL and Dodgeball

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – December 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  2. Brian Devore

    While I see where you are coming from Justin, I don’t necessarily buy into it. Physical Education does have a confidence/brand issue and deservedly so. But it is not because of teachers like you and me or the many that will probably chime in. It is because we are in the minority of teachers that prefer to teach to the standards, run quality programs, and give students outstanding learning experiences. While I am on year 26 of this journey, I really have only been an active advocate for the last 15. Every day seems like a battle against the stigmas and stereotypes regarding our profession from various directions. When going to PTA meetings, engaging members of the state board of education, or meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill, I usually receive this reaction from them—-“all we ever did was play dodgeball. You don’t do that now?” While the dodgeball issue can seem trite compared to the many other issues going on in gyms across the country (thanks L Duffy for your incredible list!), it sure doesn’t do anything to help us out. All it can do is cement those poor memories of the now grown adult decision makers that control the legislative and financial futures of our great profession. The NFL should have many better ideas of how to show off their players, skills, and brand. Yes, I said brand. While you mention all those negative things revolving around the NFL, which I agree are horrible, their brand is so strong that it can withstand all of it and not miss a beat. My personal opinion is your brand and what you stand for sends a powerful message. Our state professional organization has been approached in the past by Coca Cola to sponsor different events. I drink 2 Diet Cokes a day and enjoy them tremendously. But, to accept their funds to sponsor a health and physical education association just doesn’t enhance our brand or send a good message about what we stand for. My statement is the NFL is really not helping us at all by putting this event on when there had to be many other choices.

    In closing, I will continue to fight the stigmas that hound our profession as I reach the twilight of my career in the hopes that you and others don’t have to defend yourselves when you tell people what you do. I realize that the NFL and dodgeball are just a blip on the agenda, but I feel it reaches further than you realize based on my personal experiences. While we may have to “agree to disagree”, I appreciate you sparking the conversation and being an active professional. Thanks Justin!


    1. slowchatpe Post author


      I respect your work and can’t wait to meet you at the NJ AHPERD convention! You bring some valid points to the table. I always love the dialogue when passionate advocates for physical education and health get together. Thank you for taking the time to read this and respond!



  3. L Duffy

    While this certainly makes you question what the NFL was thinking, I totally disagree with your comment that “That game has single handily brought down the reputation of our noble profession.” Nope, not true. What has brought down our profession since the beginning of PE is the people themselves. Sitting on the sidelines, rolling out a ball, drinking their coffee and reading their papers, while generally being in poor shape themselves. Grading students on how many balls they could hit over a net, how many layups they could do, how many pull ups and how fast they ran a mile killed us. In many cases that STILL has not changed. Very few quality PE teachers are out there. Very few teachers have current websites, send home newsletters, invite parents into their spaces and share how PE has changed. Teachers are still having students wait in lines to take turns dribbling a ball around cones and still teach with the idea that every 5-6 weeks they change what activity they are doing. We constantly hear in the news and board meeting briefs about new math, common core, etc. but we never hear about new curriculums in PE. That is because not enough quality teachers are taking a stand and teaching administrators and parents about what has changed in PE. On the flip side, there are some teachers that are so eager to want to be part of the “new PE” that they have students write essays about why they forgot their gym shoes one day, or are giving written assessments on a daily basis. Dodgeball is not to blame. We are.


    1. slowchatpe Post author

      Your reply was spot on. You missed my bout of sarcasm where you quoted me. Read the last sentence of that paragraph that states, “When people play that game a Physical Education teacher loses their whistle.” I agree that we need to be better and engage stakeholders more if we want to earn the respect we deserve.



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