With word surfacing that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have fired head basketball coach Mike Rice after a video surfaced of him both physically and verbally abusing players, talk of an abuse culture in college sports is yet again bubbling to the surface.
It’s far from the first time, however, that abusive coaches have been in the limelight, and in a culture where “breaking players down to build them up” is seen not only as a tolerated practice, but in fact, an acceptable coaching strategy, you can damn well guarantee it won’t be the last.
There’s a certain understated acceptance in the coaching community that some “weaker minded” players need to be dressed down, placed under extreme physical duress, or have their “manhood” questioned in a public forum as a way to push them to achieve — to reach the peak of their potential.
This old-school, Junction Boys, Bear Bryant, 1950s-era throwback attitude is rarely successful, instead alienating players and leading to the culture of one-season transfers which so often populate the news as the euphoria of March Madness shifts into the doldrums of the dog days of summer. As we enter 2013, in fact, it looks flat out archaic and barbaric.
Coaches like Bobby Knight got a pass for their antics in large part because the 24-hour news cycle and our ever-present social media — and the transparency it creates– did not exist to truly see what was taking place behind closed doors apart from a kicked chair here, and a Neil Reid incident there. Because the timeline was spread out over time — and because these coaches won games– a hall pass was given, and their actions were simply passed off as being strategy, or a coaching style.
Mike Rice’s physical and verbal abuse of his players had nothing to do with strategy or style.
It’s borderline psychopathic, in fact.
Here’s to hoping as a more enlightened sports community that we can finally start to recognize the difference between a player being pushed, and a player being abused. These are two diametrically opposite constructs and must be recognized as such, so the culture of abuse that has carried on behind closed gym doors can start to draw to a close — for everyone’s well being.
It’s not 1950 anymore.