Wednesday, November 21, 2012


This kind of shit drives me crazy.

Last week, University of Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker quit the football team, and wrote a scathing public letter to accompany his exit. If you want to read the letter, it's here, but here are a few excerpts of what he was called by the coaches (allegedly) at various times:
--You don't know what "fucked up things happened to me to screw me up so much as a person"?
--Last spring before the spring game I was called a faggot for my spiritual views by Coach Reeves where other players on the team heard him say it.

Stay classy, coaches.

There is also the allegation that trainers withheld injury information from Barker, which resulted in him going outside the team to get another opinion on what turned out to be a high ankle sprain.

Is all of what he wrote in the letter true? I don't know. That's not what I'm going to talk about, though.

After the post on Deadspin, there were reader comments. Here's where I go thermonuclear:
All of this whinging about manipulation. Yes. You are being manipulated. The coach wants to break you down/pull you off of your high horse and build you back up in the mold of someone who knows how to be a team player.

That's a very comprehensive explanation of the Bobby Knight/Woody Hayes/Great Santini school of coaching. It's very "we had to destroy the village to save it" (yes, I know, that wasn't the orginal quote, but it illustrates the point very well). In the U.S., in particular, it's a very common attitutde in regards to coaching and "making men".

The problem, of course, is that's it's complete bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

Coaches don't destroy players to "make them into men". There are many ways to turn boys into men, ways that involve respect of the individual and basic human dignity. No one would even dispute that.

So here's the question: when there are so many ways available, why would a coach go the destruction route? What does it get the coach that other approaches won't?

It's an easy answer, once you think about it: dependence.

Coaches destroy players to take away their self-esteem, which makes them dependent on the coach. This breeds dependence, not strength, but it furthers the goals of the coach.

Humilating players just makes them believe that it's acceptable to be humiliated by someone in a position of authority. Does that sound healthy? Does that sound like a recipe for a mature, well-adjusted adult?

Fortunately, there are plenty of coaches out there who aren't assholes, far more than when I was a kid. Eli 11.3, in particular, has had some terrific hockey coaches. And no one ever had to yell at him or humiliate him to make him a team player. Nobody had to "break him down". His best coach played minor league hockey at a very high level, was as tough as anyone on the planet, and treated all his players with respect. Eli would have skated through a brick wall for him.

Funny how well that works.

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