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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Coach Bully

There’s been a lot of talk about the firing of Mike Rice from his coaching position at Rutgers.   Video leaked out of him berating players, throwing balls at them, pushing them, grabbing them by the jersey, and calling them derogatory names.  He was suspended in December by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti .   In April, the tape came out to the media and Mike Rice was fired.  Soon after, Tim Pernetti resigned.   Now, a lot of this could point to Eric Murdock retaliating for being fired last July.  He gave the tape to Pernetti.   

But beyond the scandal and the suspension and the firing lies a bigger question.  Did Mike Rice bully his players?  Did Mike Rice deserve to be fired?  Was Mike Rice’s behavior taken somewhat out of context and made to look worse than he was?

When I was in Junior High we had a gym teacher that was less than smiles and rainbows.   I called him Coach Bully.  The first day of gym class, we had to bring in a white t-shirt.   He would then take a black magic marker and write our names on the front.   It was for his sake, of course.  He had to remember 30 kids' names.  Don't want to yell at the wrong one, right?   The manner in which he wrote our names told us from day one what kind of teacher he was going to be with us.   He wrote in my name and  dotted the “I” with the same force that John Travolta used to deliver the adrenaline shot to Uma Thurman’s heart in Pulp Fiction.   There was a nice dark welt on my chest where the marker made contact.  

The days in gym class, as a 12/13 year old, were not fun for someone who was on the pudgy side.  Constant remarks made about weight and physical aptitude were thrown about as I struggled with running a mile or climbing a rope.  I did get it done, but it took a lot of work. 

Once, I even attempted to be so brazen as to throw a comment back my teacher’s face.   “So-and-so, you must have thought they said trains when they were giving out brains and took a slow one.”    He told this to one of the other unfortunate fattys in the class.  Somewhat under my breath I chirped, “Yeah and when they gave out looks, you thought they said books and got a scary one.”   He shot a look down the line where he met with some stifled giggles and smiles but I managed to escape detection.

I feared gym class that first year.  I prayed for rain when it was time to run the mile.   But after awhile, I got used to his barbs and managed to get Bs and a few As in those three years I was in his class.

Was he a bully?  It could be argued as such.   If we had cell phone and digital camera technology then, someone could have easily of filmed our classes and put together a pretty damning video of his behavior.   Do I think he was a bully.  Ehh?   Maybe, but it didn’t bother me.    I’m sure some of the other kids, the ones who weren’t used to the abuse took it harder but we all survived.

The thing is, that kind of behavior has been around since the dawn of athletics or exercise.   Any time you have a group of younger players on a team, their coach or teacher is bound to be rough on them to get certain results.   Bobby Knight was infamous for his behavior on and off the court.   But, perhaps the problem with the Mike Rice case is, no one asked the players how they felt about.

I’m sure some of the players would like nothing more than to burn him in effigy for his behavior towards them, but on the whole I think they got it.  I think they understood it was a style of coaching.   Not everyone is like that and not everyone responds well to it.  

Were Rice’s tactics needed?  Of course not.   No one deserves to be treated like that and there are probably more effective ways of being tough and getting results without having to throw balls or insults around.  Look at Herb Brooks at the 80 Olympics.   He wasn’t exactly a peach, but he also didn’t call his players, “F**king Fa**ots.”

Part of the problem my generation faces as we head into parenting is that we tend to want to give our kids a better life than we had.  The issue is that we had a pretty decent life.   Our kids have it a hell of a lot better than they should and that’s the problem.   This generation of kid is too entitled and expecting of instant gratification.   If they don’t like the way they’re treated, the other person, teacher, coach, whatever needs to be fired.  It’s never their fault or their responsibility.

Kids playing soccer these days are not subjected to competition.    There is no score.   Everyone wins.  Everyone gets a trophy, including the kid who rode the bench all season.    The truth is, everyone is not the same.  Everyone is not the best.  Someone has to lose once in a while and that someone needs to be your kid on occasion.   

Now, like I said, Eric Murdock could have orchestrated this whole thing to look worse than it was in retaliation for being fired.   Mike Rice is his own worst enemy when it comes to his behavior  but it was contextually damning.

I think the suspension and mandated anger management class would have been sufficient.    Unless there were conversations behind closed doors that showed he had no intention of changing his ways and was not remorseful for his representation of his University then firing might have been the right choice.   However, considering what happened at Penn State, administrators are not willing to risk sanctions and punishments handed down by the volatile NCAA powers that be.  The public is keeping a close and watchful eye on their investments.  Parents will pull up their kids recruiting tent stakes and go somewhere else if there is a possibility that some harm may come to their precious snowflake.

Then again, maybe Rutgers did this as a way to not lose money.  Hide the scandal in order to keep Rice coaching as he was doing a pretty decent job there.   When it came out,  scuttle the mess to avoid recruiting losses and NCAA punishments.   In the end, the business of being a big name basketball program tarnishes the image of trying to foster and mentor young student athletes. 

In the end, none of us died at the hands of Coach Bully.   Some of us got a little more motivation to succeed.   Granted, we weren’t vying for a national title, but seems like our little egos were strong enough to overcome the hot air ramblings of a guy we only saw twice a week for nine months.   Maybe, we need to give our own kids a chance to rise to the occasion.  Maybe we need to let them make it better for themselves before we swoop in and save the day.    Maybe, that welt on my chest healed just fine with no scar or permanent damage left behind.  Know your kid.  Know their limits.   Know when to catch and when to release.

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