Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Abusive Coaching is Not OK - Stop Defending Rutgers Bully Mike Rice

The question Americans should be asking themselves - especially coaches, teacher, and parents - is whether disgraced Rutgers coach Mike Rice's behavior is more disturbing than the comments of people who actually defend him and abusive coaching.  When the story and video first surfaced, the initial reactions were shock and outrage.  Coach Rice's behavior was so far beyond the pale that it seemed unfathomable that he hadn't been fired immediately and even investigated by authorities for potential assault charges.  I simply couldn't believe that an adult who calls himself "a coach" could be so cruel and literally out of control in his interactions with players.  Nor could anyone I spoke with, including men who played and coached football.

Yet, it didn't take long for the conversation to veer into even more disturbing territory when people made clear that opposition to abusive coaching wasn't the consensus view.  On Fox News, Eric Bolling opened the discussion by saying the firing of Rice symbolized the decline of America because of the "wussification of American men."  Fox commentator Sean Hannity echoed this mentality when he declared that he was "yelled at by coaches" and he "turned out OK."  But let's be clear: if someone thinks the abuse by Coach Rice is any way acceptable, he absolutely did not "turn out OK."  It seems most disturbing for these comments - always from men - to be made by people who are fathers.  Jon Stewart reacted with sharp criticism - and his trademark wit - to Hannity's defense.  Of course, any comments between Stewart and Hannity will be politicized, but Stewart's most significant point is that this should be beyond party or ideology.  There is simply no reason to defend this man.

Now Slate Magazine editor David Plotz has weighed in with a troubling defense of Coach Rice under the even more disturbing title "I Loved My Abusive Basketball Coach."  At this point, the discussion must shift to the basic psychology behind victims of abuse who learn to react by defending the abuser and blaming themselves.  This is not in any way "OK."  While many former athletes will defend strict coaches and teachers as being necessary to instill discipline and bring out the best in some kids, the line between strictness and abuse should be roundly clear to everyone.  Coach Rice is so far past the line of acceptable behavior, he can't even see it anymore.  Neither can those who defend him.  Po Bronson's recent book Top Dog explained the situation whereby lower performing athletes will actually respond to stricter practice as a way of "bringing out their best" when they lack the will to do it themselves.  But he's not talking about abuse.  Coach Rice's behavior was never about coaching - it was about control and anger and abuse.

Clearly, there are problems in the world of athletics that have nothing to do with the sport.  These are the heart of issues that lead to books like Why Johnny Hates Sport and the need for movements like the Power of Positive Coaching.  We are losing our way as human beings if we do not respond to the behavior of Coach Rice with serious disapproval.

No comments: