Athletes lose when led by bullies
Page 1 of Sports Daily in The Star on a recent day was dominated by discussion of the outrageous behavior by some big time college basketball coaches – men receiving salaries in the millions of dollars, but who have been investigated, censured and in some cases fired or forced to resign for verbally or even physically abusing their players.
Occupying roughly half the page was a photograph of the latest offender, Mike Rice, head coach at Rutgers University.
The image is arresting. Teeth bared, eyes bulging, it is the face of a man dangerously out of control – an individual in serious need of straitjacket or, maybe better, a couple of well-placed zaps from a stun gun.
Rice’s behavior became national news after a video that was shot during team practices was released to ESPN by a former Rutgers staffer, provoking disgust and outrage at the university and beyond.
It’s no secret that coaching at the major college level is a high-pressure profession. Expectations are great, and the rewards for success are lavish. But the price of failure can be correspondingly harsh.
In three seasons, Rice’s teams had lost seven more games than they’d won, including eight of 13 conference games this year.
Disappointment like that can fray the spirit. But it is no excuse for turning savagely on young men whose parents and the university had entrusted them to the coach’s leadership.
My own experience in competitive sports was slight. I’ve heard grown men speak proudly of their high school and college “careers.”
I had no career. I was too small and ungifted. But I was earnest and eager, and those qualities won me a place on the bench.
The coaches I was exposed to were decent and understanding men. They were disciplinarians, but they led with advice and encouragement, not with blows and curses. They were teachers, underpaid as educators were then and too many still are.
Nelson Dwight and Andy Nurski were the names of two of them.
That’s been 60-some years ago, and of course they are long gone now. But I had the great luck, later on in adulthood, to come to know both of them well as friends.
And I cannot help feeling a twinge of pity for the athletes who – whatever their success and glory on the court or playing field – must take with them from their school years the memory of abuse at the hands of men whose duty it was not to intimidate but to inspire.