This is likely the first of 2 blogs I’ll write today, so I apologize in advance for my verbosity (is that a word???). I may even write a 3rd here in the next few days…guess I’ve got a lot on my mind.
Anyway. So I was watching the news regarding the whole coaching incident with the Rutgers men’s basketball team. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching the “secret” footage, but I saw enough to know that there is no good reason for one person to treat another one in that fashion. Especially a person in a position of authority over another. I won’t go so far as to call those basketball players “kids”, because they really aren’t vulnerable (at least physically anyway…mentally, well, that’s another story. More on that in a minute.) in the same way that my 6 year old son is. But even adult to adult–that kind of behavior is deplorable and he certainly deserved to be fired.
As I watched it though, I couldn’t believe the way those athletes let him push them around. They are men, at least physically, all of them bigger and stronger than Mike Rice. My first thought was “Why on earth did they take this? Why didn’t they punch his temper-tantrum throwing lights out??” I was reminded of when I was teaching…my tough guy inner city kids would get menacing with me if I wouldn’t let them get a drink of water for heavens’ sake. Here this guy is pushing them around, calling them names, bullying them and they just take it. WHY??
And then it all became clear–because the culture in America teaches respect for coaches but not for teachers. We could go into a long discussion about the ridiculous disparity in salaries between teachers and athletes and coaches, which would more than prove this point. The reality is that in the US, kids are taught to respect their coaches, to not question them, to trust their methods, however out there and inappropriate. Because a coach can make or break your career right? Becoming a star athlete is a highly prized achievement…more worth is placed on making the Varsity squad than making National Honor Society. A kid with NBA aspirations is going to trust their coach way more than their math teacher. Many of the kids I taught believed they were going to get to the NFL or NBA. That was way more important than growing up to cure cancer or be an anthropologist. And where do kids get these values? The grown ups in their lives, the grown ups they see on TV.
So coaches get away with murder a lot of times. The Rutgers story is not the first to come out with an expose of outlandish coaching methods. It’s not until it becomes a public outrage issue that anyone really cares. I mean, look at Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. That whole mess continued to be perpetuated because the coach was never questioned. No one wants to confront the man (or woman…you know this happens in women’s athletics as well) who could potentially make them a star.
But I know that I sure as heck wouldn’t have gotten away with calling my kids “faggots” and “c—” or throwing things at them or pushing them around. My kids at least would’ve gotten right up in my face and clocked me. Any parent who found out would’ve reported me in a hot second. And for good reason. But I would get disrespected for something as outrageous a expecting a kid to do homework. Or behave. Or not cuss ME out. And I’m confident many, many teachers could share similar stories.
We need to make sure coaches are held to the same standards of behavior as any professional and not allowed to be hateful bullies simply because sports are so revered in our culture. And we need to affirm the same respect for teachers and academics as we do for athletics–you’re going to go much farther with a good education in life. Very few people are going to be professional athletes. And, most importantly, we need to teach EVERYONE, kids, college students, and adults, that no one should be allowed to treat another person the way Mike Rice treated those kids. No matter who they are.
And yes, I realized that there are awful, horrible, bullying/abusive teachers. This is not to imply that teachers are all saintly angels. Just as not all coaches/athletes don’t care about academics. Just some thoughts and observations on this particular situation.