Last week, another scenario involving coaching abuse was revealed. Rutgers University head men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, was fired several days after a videotape taken at a practice showed him physically shoving players, yelling personal slurs at players and throwing basketballs at players heads. This firing came months after an assistant coach on the team, Eric Murdock, had turned in the videotape to the athletic department. Murdock was fired from Rutgers last summer. He claims he was fired for revealing the evidence about Rice’s behavior. Rutgers spokesmen claim his contract was simply not renewed. Since Rice was fired last week, the athletic director and chief attorney for Rutgers have resigned and many have demanded that the president of the university step down. These actions have been requested because Rice wasn’t fired when this information was revealed, only after it was broadcast on ESPN.
I have read with much interest the comments that have been written about this situation. Many individuals, including former Atlanta Braves star, Chipper Jones, feel Rice should not have been fired. Instead, they claim that this type of behavior “toughens up” athletes. However, comments from a large group of athletes including NBA greats, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, have expressed their disdain and disgust about Rice’s actions. Obviously, this has opened the door to a wide array of opinions. I feel this issue goes much deeper than one individual’s abuse. To me, it is about a deeper issue, that addresses the fear athletes, coaches and parents have of confronting or exposing this behavior from coaches, especially those in positions of authority. I have written many newsletters about this behavior before, but I feel this incident shows us why many are afraid to say anything or report this type of behavior. Assistant coach, Eric Murdock, was fired after turning in the videotape of Rice’s behavior to the athletic department. Murdock wasn’t afraid to speak up about this incident, and in turn, lost his job because of it. Over my 32 of work as a sport psychologist, I have heard about this type of abuse numerous times and have always encouraged athletes, parents and coaches to report this behavior to administrators and athletic directors. Rarely, and I emphasize rarely, have these individuals been reported. Why? The reasons I have been given are varied, but all focus on one topic, FEAR.
One high school basketball player was a target of similar attacks by an assistant coach, but neither he nor his parents would turn in the assistant coach because he didn’t want to lose his starting spot on the team. He wanted and needed a college scholarship. Basketball was his ticket and they did not want to take a chance of losing that possibility because he would get the reputation as a “complainer”. Several college athletes I have worked with over the years have discussed with me their concerns about the way their head coaches talked “at them”. Many have told me they were degraded, insulted and had their manhood questioned by coaches. When I asked them what they did about it, the typical answer was “nothing”. Why? Mostly, because they were afraid of either losing their starting position on the team (just as the high school athlete) or also of totally losing their scholarship. One athlete, a soccer player, confronted her coach about the language he used with her and was immediately released from her scholarship. Both she and her parents spent four years in legal action dealing with issue. She did transfer and ended up starting her remaining two years of eligibility. However, she had to deal with a wide variety of accusations by her former coach. When it was all over, she told me she was glad she exposed him for the verbal abuse, and hoped that it helped prevent others from dealing with this.
Are many athletes coddled too much? Yes. Do they need to be pushed? Yes. But, there is a limit with how far someone should be pushed and challenged, to where it goes to an abusive level. My typical question to parents and students is would you put up with this behavior in the classroom? If a teacher becomes verbally or physically abusive, would you report it? Usually, the answer is a quick yes. I think it is important to educate athletes, parents, coaches and officials about the importance of reporting verbal and physical abuse not only on the athletic field, but in all aspects of life. When you are too afraid of speaking up, you are not only hurting yourself, but potentially others as well. Your thoughts.