Help! My School’s Football Team Gets All the Money & the Rest of Us Get Left in the Cold

It’s athletics AND academics.

Illustration of football player being fanned by teachers

Dear WeareTeachers:
As a high school teacher, the special treatment our football team gets really gets under my skin. They’re incredibly well-funded and have tons of support staff. Meanwhile, I can’t afford lab equipment for dissections, and my only help is a TA. Plus, the players are always getting out of class for football-related events. The coaches pressure me and other teachers to let missing assignments slide and even massage their grades. I get that they’re important to kids, but I’m so tired of sports being the priority. —Fix the Football Frenzy

Dear F.T.F.F.,

I think we all can agree that watching and playing sports is a way to escape the stresses of our daily lives and excitedly rally together around a common goal. Sports showcase awe-inspiring human talent, grit, concentration, suspense, community and so much more. Additionally, through sports, we gain insights into sensitive issues in our society such as gender, class, race, and economics. High school football has long been a centerpiece in American culture. Think about the TV series Friday Night Lights. So many of us get inspired by the underdogs, overcoming hardships, and hopeful moments. But with all that said, the funding disparities prevalent in our schools all over our country are out of control.

It’s not surprising that the football frenzy we see in our society at large is alive and well in our high schools. Past Super Bowls have had an average of over 114.4 million TV viewers. Advertising for the Super Bowl was at a record $449 million in 2020. An average 30-second ad cost about $6.5 million in 2022. Whoa! And now our high school football programs are part of the machine. Marketing, money, and image are overriding academics. It may feel like you are shoveling snow in a blizzard when imagining tackling this issue.

Yes, play is important, but so are accountability and equity. Look into if your high school has instituted recognition for scholar-athletes who play sports and keep their GPA above a 3.0. Are policies about students not being able to play when their grades are too low? The reality is that pressure from coaches, administration, families, and other stakeholders often intimidates teachers into turning a blind eye to missing assignments, allowing absences, and more. Even courtrooms favor athletes. Former Stanford swimmer sexually assaulted an unconscious Chanel Miller and was sentenced to six months in jail because a longer sentence would have “a severe impact on him,” according to a judge.


Have you considered getting your students more involved in the advocacy for science funding? It might not have huge monetary yields, but it’s a good lesson in using their voices for advocacy. The Report on Elevating Student Voice emphasizes that “students have the greatest stake in their education but little to no say in how it is delivered. This lack of agency represents a lost opportunity to accelerate learning and prepare students for a world in which taking initiative and learning new skills are increasingly paramount to success.”

Invite your students who exhibit interest and curiosity around your labs and science to make a case to your administration about funding. They can create videos and write letters about how the labs have motivated them to be engaged and learn about the living world. This is a great opportunity for student voice and activism around a cause. Maybe there can even be a fundraiser for the science department at a football game. Touchdowns in Science!

In addition to encouraging student voice, you and your department can more formally express concerns. When the school site leadership team is making decisions about the allocation of resources, you could share evidence of the impact that labs have had on learning and motivation. Be specific about the labs you want your students to experience, the materials you need, and the reasons why the labs are so important. For example, maybe there is a focus on environmentalism, health, and disease. Is there a topic that is meaningful for your campus, such as the quality of drinking water or learning about similarities and differences in humans?

Keep positioning science at the forefront of educators’, families’, and stakeholders’ minds. Science generates solutions for everyday life and helps us tackle bigger mysteries in life.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I am in a new position, and I’m struggling to deal with a coworker. We share a tight space, and she constantly makes little comments. I spend just as much time in the office as I do working with students. I do not do well with confrontation, and even though she does minor things, it feels deliberate. Yesterday, she made comments about me taking a long break. Another day, she said I needed to prove how I’m making an impact if I want to keep this job. She even moves my personal things. I try to remain neutral and not react. But sometimes I just have had enough, and it irritates me. I respect the fact that she had this space first. I am just trying to survive till June, and she’s making it more challenging than it should be. I’d appreciate any suggestions —Counting The Days

Dear C.T.D.,

Of course you are counting the days. It IS exhausting to be around energy vampires! “An energy vampire is somebody who literally zaps your energy dry,” states Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist for UCLA’s clinical faculty. She goes on to say, “Energy vampires manipulate people who will give them air space and open ears. Unsurprisingly, those most often targeted are the sensitive, compassionate, always-see-the-good-in-people types of people.” I’m imagining that you started out with an open mind and good intentions to make this shared space collaborative and pleasant. You probably extended yourself and listened to your work partner and showed grace and understanding. Unfortunately, it sounds as though your colleague’s moral compass is off. I’ve always thought it’s harder to be rude than it is to be kind.

Negotiating space and not feeling welcome day in and day out sounds spirit-squashing. The big sighs, comments here and there, and moving your personal stuff can really add up. It’s good to hear that you are self-aware regarding your responses to your officemate. So much wisdom grows when we pay attention to how we respond to others. I have no doubt that you will be able to get through the hard days. American author Maya Angelou provides some valuable advice: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” There will be days when you feel like you are walking on eggshells. These are the days where you can find inspiration and joy in other colleagues and your students.

You must feel some relief and pride knowing that you have the self-efficacy to make adjustments and take risks on finding a healthier work climate. So, how can you make the best of this temporary life circumstance? What inspires you? Consider hanging a few quotes up in your space to help you soften the sting and look beyond the negative comments. I love this message from the 14th Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible and it’s always possible.” The kindness I’m referring to extends to others, but also is for YOURSELF!

And you don’t have to endure the rude comments and energy. Setting boundaries and insisting on accountability can feel like a heavy lift for sure, but it’s worth it. YOU are worth it! Catherine Beart writes, “Often we don’t say no to people because we’re afraid it might offend them or create tension in a relationship. We’re taught to be kind to others, but we ultimately need to find the balance between being kind and being firm. Otherwise, we give others permission to take advantage of us.”

In the spirit of being kind and firm, I’d like to offer the idea of working on loving yourself enough to hold people who hurt you accountable. What do you think about asking to talk, sharing how you feel, and describing what you need until you leave? You might say something like, “I know it has been a challenging transition to share space together. I’m hoping we can talk about making our workspace feel better for both of us. For example, next time you feel the urge to move my personal things, I’d like to be the one to handle my stuff. Any thoughts?”

Dear WeAreTeachers:
My high school English students asked me to be an advisor for GSA. Of course, I want to support my students. I really do!  But I’m also conflicted about the time commitments. I’m already working late every night and barely have a social life. And I’m cringing to say that I have fears about being involved in something that is controversial. People have such strong opinions, and I’m worried I won’t be able to handle the weight of the responsibilities. I’m also nervous about saying something wrong and making mistakes. Can you send some next steps I can try? —Can’t Let Them Down

Dear C.L.T.D.,

Let’s start by defining what a GSA is. According to GSA Network, “Genders & Sexualities Alliances, or GSAs for short, are student-run organizations that unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth to build community and organize around issues impacting them in their schools and communities. GSAs have evolved beyond their traditional role to serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in middle and high schools, and have emerged as vehicles for deep social change related to racial, gender, and educational justice.

What an honor for your students to want YOU to be the advisor for the GSA. They asked you because they trust you and know that you have what it takes to advocate and create safe and brave spaces for all students to feel heard, seen, and accepted. Bask in that for a moment!

It’s totally understandable that taking on extra responsibilities may feel overwhelming. We usually need to invest more time when we are starting something new. So, try and remember that your students should be highly engaged, too. The more you involve the students, the more buy-in and the more they will build critical leadership skills. No one thinks you need to be perfect in the role of GSA advisor. In fact, exposing your humanity will make you able to relate to your students on a deeper level. Let your students know that your intentions are to promote inclusivity and community and address issues that affect LGBTQ+ youth. Also, let them know that sometimes you will make mistakes and that you want to learn and stretch and grow to be a more solid leader.

Padraig O’Tuama, an Irish poet, wraps words around something near and dear to the heart of a GSA: “We need stories of belonging that move us towards each other, not from each other; ways of being human that open up the possibilities of being alive together; ways of navigating our differences that deepen our curiosity, that deepen our friendship, that deepen our capacity to disagree. That deepen the argument of being alive.” He goes on to say, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Imagine yourself holding space for a sense of belonging and being alive together.

After learning about the Trevor Project, I was surprised by the statistics that LGBTQ+ youth have a much higher rate of self-harm, suicide ideation, and completing suicide. You may LITERALLY be saving lives by stepping into this absolutely essential role at a school. While you take on these additional responsibilities, remember to be gentle to yourself, involve your students, and let yourself be human.

Barbie McGoffin, the GSA advisor for a San Diego high school shared her insights with me: “GSA advisor has been one of the most meaningful roles I’ve had at school. Helping kids feel safe, welcomed, and like they have a community outside of my core classes makes me feel more a part of our entire school. As much as I’ve tried supporting the students in GSA, they have truly taught me more about kindness, inclusion, and the social issues our young queer communities are facing today.”

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Dear WeAreTeachers:
I have been REALLY struggling recently emotionally, so I talked to my therapist today. (Finally, after having to leave class this morning because I just started crying.) I’ve learned that I am really craving adult interaction. My days consist of almost constantly being with students at school and at church and alone much of the time at home. The highlight of my week is when I can spend time with other adults, and I NEVER thought of that before! Turns out I miss other grown-ups. So eye-opening! Because of this, I think I’m actually depressed. What suggestions do you have for overcoming this?

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Illustration: Jen Jamieson

Why Does Football Always Come First?