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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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