Not to defend Douche Bag Supreme Mike Rice, former coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team, who was fired after a video surfaced showing him berating and abusing his players, but I got news for you: this method of coaching young people is pervasive throughout American sports.
Most students who play a high school or college sport usually end up playing for at least one coach whose primary method of motivation is to bully, belittle, berate and generally shit on kids for every error.
Admittedly, Rice of Rutgers is an extreme example. Throwing balls at players’ heads from point blank range isn’t a norm. But each time I saw him grab a player and shove him aside harshly—and here he was just moving the guy to the right “spot” because a common way to screw up in practice is to go to the wrong spot or hit the spot too early or too late in a play or drill—I just thought to myself, “Oh sure, that was my life six days a week for all of high school basketball season.”
We could talk about the language used, I guess, but I guarantee you Mike Rice is not even close to the only high school or college coach calling his players “faggots,” “pussies,” “fairies,” “queers,” or any other slur.
As I recounted in "Publish This Book," my high school coach would get just as furious as Rice did in those videos (often more so) and call individuals a “suckin’ puss,” as if changing the first consonant made all the difference. A fond memory of high school basketball was when he freaked out and kicked a full water bottle across the gym. It hit the bleachers, exploded, sent water and ice everywhere, and we, the players, spent the next ten minutes of practice cleaning it up while he stood there as if it was our fault because one of us had missed a flex cut.
This is not to say Rice’s behavior should be excused or that I’m somehow touting the scars of playing for a similar coach (I long ago stopped measuring my masculinity based on things basketball-related because the first twenty years of it didn't work out so well). All I’m saying is that Mike Rices are coaching at every level of non-professional athletics where the power imbalance favors whatever whims of anger they happen to want to exercise. There’s this unspoken code among these men and women that somehow value can be extracted from a player’s ability to take fury and spittle in the eye—as if there’s a measure of character in absorbing unchecked rage.
To be clear, I'm not advocating that a coach never yell at his or her players. That's absurd: many times a player needs a good thrashing, especially in high school where (let's face it) you and your teammates are probably mostly morons. But there's a difference, and most of the time the coaches who use purposeless irate rage blend in effortlessly with the ones who actually teach kids something about the sport, and hopefully, life.
In the camera phone era they may get in trouble more often, but the culture of bullying as coaching will remain omnipresent in American sports.