Coaching and Verbal Abuse

I read the below article in the Washington Post today from John Feinstein, noted author of A Season on the Brink about Bobby Knight.

Thirty-six years ago, I spent a season with Bob Knight when he was both the coach and the unquestioned ruler of Indiana basketball — and, for that matter, the entire university. When Knight threw a chair during a game in 1985, he told school president John Ryan he would resign if Ryan suspended him. Ryan backed down, so the Big Ten had to suspend him. In fact, in 2000, when Knight denied choking a player in practice and video surfaced of him doing it, Myles Brand, one of Ryan’s successors, didn’t fire Knight or suspend him. He issued a “no tolerance” edict, which Knight literally laughed off during a television interview. Then Knight dressed down a student several months later for calling him by his last name and was fired.

Many of the things I witnessed during that 1985-86 season would today get a coach — no matter how successful — fired almost instantly. Read the first chapter of the book. Knight reduced Daryl Thomas to tears in the locker room in front of his teammates with a raft of profanities I can still hear in my head.

Today, there are lines that coaches can’t cross. The question is where are those lines? There’s no doubt that some players, male and female, can take more than others. Knight picked on Steve Alford more than any player on the 1985-86 team, not because he was the best player but because he knew Alford could take it.

For years, it has been common practice for men’s coaches to insult players by calling them names that refer to parts of the female anatomy. Homophobic insults have also been part of the coaching handbook for as long as I can remember. Years ago, they were accepted, even laughed off by players.

Today, not so much.

As I read, I kept thinking about Coach Majerus and how all that eventually caught up to him as times changed. Not sure there is a spot for that kind of coach anymore in college or amateur sports, and that is probably a good thing.