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Coaching and Bullying

Mike Rice isn't unique and we all know it

Oh, come on!
Oh, come on!
Nick Laham

I don't like bullies. I never have, and not because of some barely repressed childhood trauma. I just firmly believe that those who pick on people who are weaker than themselves are cowards. As the old bumper sticker says, "Mean people suck."

By now, you've seen the sickening footage of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice physically abusing his players. ESPN obtained the footage via former Rutgers coach Eric Murdock. Murdock made his superiors at Rutgers aware of the abuse, for which Rice was suspended last December.

Murdock's reward? He was fired last summer. Oh, I'm sorry. He was not fired. His contract was euphemistically "not renewed". And Rutgers assures us it had absolutely nothing to do with Murdock objecting to the treatment of the players by Rice.

Rutgers officials were aware of Rice's behavior last year and had seen the footage from Murdock. Their response was to suspend the coach for three games and not renew the contract of the whistleblower. This is how abuse happens. People in authority all turn the other way, essentially giving the bully a free hand to do whatever he wants. Rutgers didn't condone the behavior, but they didn't exactly condemn it either.

Why is that? It's that we accept physical and emotional abuse as an inherent part of coaching. It is total crap. Bobby Knight built a reputation as a disciplinarian because he hit kids and couldn't control his temper.

That's not discipline. It's hitting a kid and throwing a chair. He was acting like a bully and a baby, depending on the situation. But he was not only allowed to act like this, but actually be praised for it because, hey, Bobby Knight was a real good coach and he won a lot of games and a few national titles.

Coaches are not just allowed to berate kids, they are practically encouraged to. I don't think many of them are going to the extremes of beaning their players in the head with a basketball at short range, but it's not a very far leap in behavior.

We mistake bullying for discipline. Simply yelling a lot is not discipline. It's just yelling a lot. Kids take the abuse because athletes are trained to listen to their coaches. Let's face it, as a group, athletes are tremendously respectful of authority (sorry, for all of you athletes cultivating a "rebel" persona, we're not buying it).

They also take the abuse because their kids. Kids are not on equal footing with adults, and they will put up with things that none of us would ever put up. If Bobby Knight started yelling at us at our job, we'd tell him to stick it where the sun don't shine and then report him to HR. Players don't do that. Even ones that don't buy into this as discipline.

And why would you report the abuse? Why would you ever say anything about a coach who went too far? Who would believe you? Even if they believed you, who would do anything about it? Schools think college coaches abusing kids is part of the job.

Eric Murdock played in the NBA for nine years, and he lost his job and nothing changed. And he had video evidence. What chance does a player ever have?

Shut up and take it. It's good for you. We got hit and yelled at by our coaches and we turned out okay. Some of us even think we turned out okay because we were hit and yelled at by our coaches. In some cases, they aren't even wrong.

And so the cycle continues. Coaches act like bullies because they have absolute power of these kids and we tacitly endorse their behavior. And so it goes.