Frantz: Coaches must walk a fine line when it comes to player abuse 

First, there was Kansas football coach Mark Mangino, who was forced to resign in December after allegations surfaced that he was verbally berating and insulting his players. Then, just days before the Red Raiders’ appearance in the Alamo Bowl, Texas Tech fired football coach Mike Leach for reportedly ordering a player with a concussion to a dark room during practice hours.

Last week, it was South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt getting the boot for apparently grabbing a player by the throat and slapping him — and then lying about it. And now it’s Kansas State men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, apologizing and waiting to learn his fate after smacking senior Chris Merriewether on the arm with the back of his hand during a loss to Missouri on Saturday.

So, are today’s coaches suddenly behaving badly, or have today’s players been coddled so much that they simply can’t handle old-school discipline and motivation?

I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

I’ve gone on record many times that I would have sent my son to play for Bobby Knight without hesitation, because I believed in the General’s no-nonsense style and his militaristic approach to discipline, hard work and education. And yes, I said these things even after the Neil Reed incident went public.

Would I want a my son to be grabbed by the throat and repositioned and screamed at for routinely being out of position, as Reed apparently was in that infamous practice session? No. And I probably wouldn’t want to see my son get whacked on the arm during a basketball timeout as Merriewether was, either. But I also know from first-hand experience that those are the types of messages that are not soon forgotten, and that the players who receive them are not very likely to make the same mistakes again.

At first glance, Leach’s decision to send Adam James to a dark room during at least two practice sessions appears indefensible. And maybe it is. Punishing a player for something beyond his control — getting injured — is beyond comprehension. However, after consulting with professional athletic trainers, I’ve learned that it is not uncommon for players with concussions, who are often light-sensitive as a result, to be kept in dark quarters for various lengths of time in order to hasten their recovery.

Whether Leach’s decision was punitive or therapeutic will likely be decided in a courtroom, as Leach has sued the university for terminating him.

As for Leavitt and Martin, the line between discipline and abuse is even more blurred, since physical contact was made between authority figure and subordinate. It’s a different sports landscape than the one I grew up playing in.

In both high school and college, I recall having facemasks grabbed numerous times by irate coaches who screamed, spit flying everywhere, at thick-headed players who couldn’t seem to get out of their own way.

I also recall those players accepting the tirades and becoming harder, stronger men — emotionally and physically — for them. I also recall winning championships.

Clearly, players do need to be protected from reckless and repeatedly abusive coaches. Players also need to remember that competitive sports are not for the timid or the easily intimidated. Sometimes old-school is the right school. Sometimes.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

 

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