Writer’s Block: No Slam Dunk Consensus On Bully Coaches


by Corinne Wnek

I really thought the story about Rutgers’s ex- basketball coach Mike Rice would be old news by now, but I was wrong. The incident, and subsequent fallout from this coach’s treatment of his athletes, is stronger than ever. From Little League to swim teams to gymnastics schools, there is no shortage of opinions on the firing of Mr. Rice.

There are two schools of thought on how this coach is viewed by the general public. The general public, that is, my neighbors, friends and family, seem to be coming out on the side of the coach and I admit to being confused, maybe even uninformed, but definitely surprised.

Their perception is that roughing up players, especially college athletes, is part of the motivation needed to compete in big time sports. Besides, they say, these are big guys we’re talking about, even when they get hit in the head at close range by a ball flung from an angry coach. Same goes for racial and gay slurs. It’s all just part of the sports culture. And everybody knows there’s no crying in basketball.

On the other hand, we have a massive problem with bullying that is pervasive in our schools and colleges. Several years back, I attended a high powered workshop in New York State on bullying, or ‘relational aggression’. The presenter described a triangle of terror: an aggressor, those afraid of the aggressor and the person targeted for bullying for whatever reason.

I learned that, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota, both young males and females, who feel attacked and unsupported by other peers, many grow to become adults bullies themselves; that is, if they survive drugs, alcohol and higher than average suicide attempts. Often, the hidden disease of low self-esteem and rejection carries into adulthood and only the very strong survive.

Now the dilemma the Rutgers’s affair presents for me is simply this: Was this a case of overly aggressive coaching by someone in a trusted position or are my ‘peeps’ right when they tell me to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee?

According to them, I need to understand that this kind of ‘coaching’ goes on, to a lesser degree of course, even with little kid teams and, by the way, sometimes parents are actually worse than coaches when it comes to ‘motivating’ their own ‘under-performing’ future athletic superstar.

I’m all for pushing students and athletes to go beyond what they think they are capable of doing. But I can tell you one thing. If a coach hurled racial or gay slurs at my daughter or couldn’t control his own anger to the point of becoming physical or threatening to her, it would be lock and load time, baby.

Then they would understand relational aggression up close and personal.


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