[Outlook]Play to winWhen I went to the United States to study some years ago, I was shocked when I spent my first New Year’s Day there. In Korea, students visit professors or elderly relatives as a sign of respect on the first day of the year, but in the United States everyone flocks to watch the end-of-the-season college football bowl games.
I was curious why important football games are held on New Year’s Day, so I asked a professor what was going on. He said in the United States there are three main sports ― baseball, basketball and football. But football has grown to be the most popular, at least in part because its strategies are so close to military exercises.
American football was invented out of a hybrid combination of rugby and English football.
Howie Long, a former Oakland Raider, once said that the complex strategies in American football for both offense and defense mean that a match is something like a scale model version of a battlefield engagement between two armies.
In the United States, the scheduling of this national passion is complex. In the autumn, high school football teams play on Fridays, university teams mostly on Saturdays and professional teams on Sundays. On Thanksgiving Day, professional teams play and on New Year’s Day, traditional bowl games, determine a national collegiate champion.
With sports playing such an important role in American life, it would seem that the strategic aspects of football have become ingrained in American culture. People construct sports-minded strategies for their lives ― whether raising children or planning a career.
Sports are not simply entertainment, they affect the ways people think. Liang Su-ming, a great 20th century Chinese Confucian scholar, once said it was a serious problem that national leaders did not enjoy sports enough. An American politician once said that Korean politicians do not understand the concept of fair play. He noted that fair play is learned through team sports, so it is wrong to expect people who have never played a team sport to know how to play fair.
Team sports help one’s physical and mental health. They encourage the capacity for organization, teamwork and honesty. One learns strategy and competitiveness on the playing field by combining physical prowess with mental agility.
In American football, strategy has been refined to a complex, passionate and brutally effective science.
In Korea, we need to have a scientific and strategic sport that all Koreans can feel passionate about.
An Arabic saying goes that when you are healthy you can also have money, status and love, but lose your health and you lose everything. In advanced countries, spending on health and medical treatment is a major reason for budget deficits. In Korea, medical fees are now ballooning for both individuals and the government. To stay healthy and to reduce spending on medical treatment, sports must be encouraged.
First, we should get our children away from their computers and private classes and encourage them to play sports. A president of a Korean university noted recently that when he works with Americans he can feel that Koreans are physically weaker than Americans. An increasing number of Korean children suffer from childhood obesity, high blood pressure and back abnormalities. Exercise is needed. Children should be trained for both individual and team sports. We have long valued intelligence over health. The order must be reversed.
Second, prestigious American universities have many sports facilities. In Korea, we need to build such facilities as a critical part of training leaders for the future. There is plenty of land in Korea to build more playing fields.
Third, we need more sports matches between schools. Pusan National University and Seoul National University have soccer matches every year, but we need more scholastic sports.
As we now have a free trade agreement with the United States, we should be able to enjoy sports facilities which are comparable to those in the United States. It would be good for our economy.
*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Byung-nak