Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Building Character and the Coaching Cult

Last week, Jenni Carlson, a columnist for The Oklahoman wrote a column about Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid in which she basically called him out for being "soft." The column was mean-spirited (you can read it here), and I thought it was unfair.

After Oklahoma St.'s game against Texas Tech, though, head coach Mike Gundy basically went berserk in a press conference and ranted for over three minutes about the article while Carlson was sitting there with the assembled reporters.

And when I say "berserk," I'm not exaggerating. You need to see it for yourself, which you can do here.

Again, if you haven't watched that clip, you need to, or what I'm about to write won't have any context.

One of the things that I've noticed as I grow older is the incredible decline of civility in this country. And 90% of the time, when I see someone screaming on television, acting like an absolute, complete asshole, who is it?

A coach.

I'm not saying that there aren't coaches who are wonderful role models, who treat their athletes and their community with respect. Those coaches absolutely do exist. But it seems like mostly what I see now when I watch sporting events are red-faced, screaming sociopaths who have veins bulging out of their necks like ropes.

Why is that screaming coaches are not only accepted, but expected? Is it because we equate screaming with caring? Do people who scream when they get angry somehow care more than the rest of us? How ridiculous.

If a university president went on a rant like that, they'd resign within a week. Somehow, though, coaches are allowed to act like that. Somehow they're exempt from the normal rules of civilized society. Is it because sports are somehow more important than the rest of our lives? Again, how utterly ridiculous.

Coaches are a primary role model for millions of young boys and girls (and young men and women) in this country. And when it comes to coaches, we have tragically confused "abusive" with "tough." Screaming at people, whether it's your players or a reporter, isn't "tough." It isn't "hard-nosed." It isn't "passionate."

It's just being a dick.

So what happens when millions of kids are around a primary role model who's a dick? I think it's very safe to assume that a far higher percentage of these kids will wind up being screamers and physically abusive than the kids who had coaches who treated them with respect.

Screaming, out-of-control coaches aren't character builders. They're character cancers.

I'm not saying that Carlson's column wasn't objectionable, even though I do feel that college athletes are fair game for criticism. The column was too heavy in innuendo and drew too many conclusions from very thin examples. And I have no problem with Gundy criticizing Carlson in public. He could have started the press conference by noting that he had read the column, he felt like it was totally unfair, and that he was disappointed in Carlson's lack of professionalism.

And then he should have moved on.

Instead, he winds up becoming the latest in a long, long list of coaches whose behavior is so sub-human that it defies description.

Here's a thought: what would coaches do if a regulation was passed that ejected any coach in any sport that raised his/her voice to an official? Well, they'd collectively have a stroke. But how different would the games be if television cameras weren't constantly cutting over to the sidelines and showing a coach with spittle coming out of his mouth as he rages against an official over some alleged error?

My love of sports, and that love runs very deep, has really been poisoned by the behavior of coaches. One of the reasons I look so desperately for a great sports game to play is because I'm almost to the point where I'd rather experience a sport through a game than through real life.

No screaming. No rage. No crazy people.

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