In the war against football, Jim Harbaugh has elected himself its most passionate defender, its final zealot. And in his mind, this summer’s cross-country, multi-continent tour is part recruiting and branding trip, and part evangelical revival.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a prejudice against football: at the pro level, at the college level, at the high school level, at the pee-wee football level, they’ve got something against football. We’ll overcome it, though,” Harbaugh said Tuesday.
He then drew a comparison to lacrosse that surely made sense in his mind at the time.
“People are against football,” he said. “I kind of see it that way. Let’s take lacrosse, for example. White sport. Rising, affluent sport. They recruit them in the eighth grade, they have a dead period for a couple days in August. It’s a totally different situation. It bothers us, but if it’s a test of wills we’re going to fight for the youngsters and the student-athletes and their families and for the game of football itself.”
Harbaugh views any attempt at limiting his spreading of the football gospel — like the NCAA saying he isn’t allowed to take pictures or sign autographs at satellite camps — as an affront to his entire mission, which is inherently an assault on football itself. Which will make the compromise restrictions against satellite camps that are likely coming in time for next summer all the more entertaining.
“My brother-in-law has a daughter who’s a sophomore volleyball player,” he said. “He called me up and said, ‘Should I go out to the West Coast for a camp?’ And I go, ‘Well, I think you’re going to have to if they’re recruiting your daughter.’ He says, ‘It’s going to cost me 1,500 bucks to do it. I gotta get a plane ticket for her, for me, I’ve got to get a hotel, I’ve got to pay $500 for a camp.’ That’s rough on families.
“This is good for the student-athletes, it’s good for the families and it’s good for competition. If you say you don’t want that then you say you don’t want something that’s good for the student-athletes, you don’t want something that’s good for families, and you don’t want something that’s good for competition.”
Why is Harbaugh so impassioned for the game? In his mind, by defending football against prejudice, he’s protecting men’s place in American society. Recall his comment to HBO’s Bryant Gumbel last spring:
“(Football is) the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males,” he said.
In Harbaugh’s mind, attacking his ability to hold football camps in Baltimore one day and Mobile the next is a shot across the bow at American masculinity. It may not make sense to you, but it does to him.