By Ken Reed

Mike Rice was fired today as men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University. It’s belated justice. He should have been fired immediately after Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti and school president Robert Barchi viewed the video showing Rice pushing and kicking players, as well as throwing balls at players’ heads and other forms of abuse. Instead he was given a slap on the wrist suspension. Pressure from a variety of angles after ESPN released the video forced Pernetti and Barchi to finally do the right thing.

But the Rice case is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem. The bigger issue is that sportsmanship — how we compete, how we play our games — is being overwhelmed by the growing win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities in the sports world.

Nike recently ran an ad involving Tiger Woods with the message “Winning takes care of everything.” Sadly, that’s how too much of our society views sports. Consider the classic bully Bobby Knight. He was tolerated at Indiana because he won. When even Indiana administrators grew tired of him, Texas Tech hired him. Why? Because he won basketball games. Bear Bryant was allowed to get away with physical and mental abuse because his teams usually put more points on the scoreboard than the opposition. Mike Leach gets a soft landing at Washington State because even though he was fired at Texas Tech for abusing players, he won games. Winning takes care of everything, right?

The truth is winning doesn’t take care of everything. That isn’t what sports are all about. WAAC and PAAC aren’t traditional values of our games.

Unfortunately, there are other coaches out there using coaching methods similar to what Rice employed — even at the youth level. As a society, we tolerate behavior from our children’s coaches that we’d never tolerate from high school classroom teachers or college professors.


The coach has a tremendous influence on an athlete’s sports experience – at any level. The leadership style a coach chooses to employ is a major factor in whether that experience will be positive or negative, satisfying or frustrating, fulfilling or miserable. Sports at the youth, high school and college levels are supposed to be part of the educational process for young people. Do you think the Rutgers players under Rice’s leadership had a positive educational experience?

There has been some debate over the years about whether or not Vince Lombardi actually said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Whether he said it or not, his actions strongly suggested the quote represented the spirit of his coaching ethics. And it represents the coaching philosophies of too many of our coaches in this country. Here’s a sample of Knight’s coaching style (Knight has said he looked up to Lombardi) with his players, as pulled from John Feinstein’s book A Season on the Brink:

You know what you are Daryl [Thomas]? You are the worst f—— pussy I’ve ever seen play basketball at this school. The absolute worst pussy ever. You have more god—- ability than 95 percent of the players we’ve had here but you are a pussy from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. An absolute f—— pussy. That’s my assessment of you after three years.

How’s that for inspiring leadership? Yet, thousands of fans still bow at Knight’s feet and view him as the paragon of what a coach should be.

The key for all of us — coaches, parents and fans — is to differentiate between striving to win and attempting to win at all costs. A WAAC mentality places values like fairness, justice and ethics –in essence, sportsmanship — in a secondary role. The WAAC approach is to control and use individual athletes as a means toward winning ball games – the psycho-social ramifications for the athletes as human beings is but a secondary consideration.

The Rice situation is certainly ugly but let’s hope the widespread publicity it has received causes coaches all across this land to reevaluate their own coaching methods. If they do, and they take positive action, a lot of athletes, of all ages, could be spared the abuse that Rice’s players had to endure.

“It’s time to do away with coaching by humiliation and fear. When college coaches choose to coach this way … then coaches at all levels feel they have to emulate this behavior. This results in an environment with an enormous rippling effect with harmful social consequences … As parents and citizens, we must stop honoring this primitive and abusive behavior,’” said Bill Reichardt, a former football player with the University of Iowa and the Green Bay Packers.

League of Fans founder Ralph Nader once said, “We’ve been conditioned in this country that coaches – from the pros down to our youth leagues — have to adopt a Vince Lombardi-type coaching style; in other words, treat their athletes inhumanely, and motivate them by force and fear. That notion is archaic and inaccurate. Our sports culture needs to evolve from the dark ages and transition to more meaningful humanistic coaching styles that enhance the overall experience for athletes while still striving to win games.”


Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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