This is Part One of a Three Part Series on Bullying and Hazing in Sports.
The recent news about Richie Incognito and Jonathon Martin, both offensive lineman for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and the issue of bullying and hazing teammates brought back memories of how I dealt with this issue as a coach, not only for those players on the teams I coached, but also for the players who have taken lessons from me who got caught up in such situations.
Several years ago a pitcher who took lessons from me arrived for a lesson and had a semi-derogatory term on the back of a high school team practice shirt, as if it were her name. Knowing that the shirt and the name had to be approved by her high school coach I was curious how this had come about. Our conversation went something like this.
I jokingly said, “Is that a chosen or given nick name?”
Player: “Given. It was given to me by the seniors on my high school team.”
Me: “And your high school coach is OK with that?”
Me: “How does that make you feel?”
Player: “It’s not so bad compared to other things.”
Me: “What other things?”
Player: “Well I don’t mind wearing this but I don’t like the fact that I’m not allowed to sit on the bench during the games. I have to sit on the dugout floor.”
Me: “You’re kidding me, right?”
Player: “No, Coach. That’s the rule because I’m a freshman.”
Me: “Does your coach know about this?”
After the lesson was over I called that pitcher’s high school coach and informed him that I would be at the next game and if I saw my pitcher sitting on the dugout floor I was going to report him. At that next game my pitcher was sitting on the bench.
But why did it take a threat from me to end such nonsense? Because, as is usually the case, the only way these situations occur is when a coach is complicit in the process of bullying and hazing. And this case is a prime example.
You see it’s not as if this freshman pitcher’s performance was less than stellar and so this type of treatment could be in any way justified. Not that lack of performance can ever justify bullying or hazing.
What makes this particular case even more astounding is the fact that this high school plays doubleheaders and the senior pitcher pitched one game and my freshman pitcher pitched the other game. As of that date they had played 5 doubleheaders, or 10 games, and were 5 and 5. The senior pitcher had pitched in all five of the losses while my freshman pitcher had pitched in all 5 of the wins.
So when measured by the performance on the field of battle, this freshman pitcher had not only proven her worth to the team, she had proven she was of more worth than the senior pitcher. So if she had proven her worth, why the hazing? Because the only way the seniors, who were not measuring up to the standards on the field of battle, could maintain their superiority over this freshman, was through some other standard. And, as is the case with all such hazing and bullying this new standard was completely arbitrary, detached and devoid of any connection to the player’s performance on the field of battle. It had to be so the seniors could maintain their status.
Basically the seniors were saying, “I’m a senior who is not as good as you, the freshman, but you have to sit on the dugout floor because I, a senior, who does not meet the standard you have obtained on the field of battle, say you have to sit on the dugout floor simply and only because you are a freshman. This makes me superior to you.” But this is nonsense.
So the question is this; why in the hell would a coach allow such nonsense, especially in this situation with a pitcher who was performing?
There is one simple reason. As is always the case when the coach is aware that there is bullying and hazing on his team, it occurs when a coach is too insecure to lead, teach and discipline his players. Due to this insecurity in his ability to coach he attains his self-worth by going along with the bullying and hazing. Because the Coach is not sure his coaching, instruction and strategy will measure up on the field of battle, just like his adolescent teenage players, the coach opts for an alternate means of status that he can control.
When the coach allows the “Senior Click” to have this type of control he gains status as a buddy in the “Senior Click”. This may make him feel good. It may make him popular, even if, and especially if his team is not performing on the field of battle. But his feelings and his popularity come at the expense of the very players he has sworn to protect.
So the conclusion is this; any time, I mean any time a coach allows bullying and hazing it is never for the good of the player being hazed and bullied; nor is it for the good of the player executing the hazing and bullying; nor is it for the good of the team. There is only one reason a coach allows such a situation to exist and it is to gain status for himself in the eyes of his players. In so doing the coach has put his status above the safety and respect of the very players he is sworn to protect.
When a person, in a position of power, uses this power to serve themselves at the expense of others, especially the powerless under their control, they prove that they forfeit their rank as a coach and substitute it for the status of a player within the click. Coaches are to teach respect and dignity for all in the face of all situations one might encounter, on and off the field of battle. So when a coach allows hazing and bullying, within the very situation where they have control and should be able to prevent such activity, they reveal they are lacking as a teacher and a protector of those with little or no power.
When coaches allow hazing and bullying they may gain status among those players in the click, but it comes at a cost to the players who are the recipients of the hazing and bullying. When a coach pursues his or her status at such a cost, it reveals this coach is among the lowest of all human dregs that walk the face of the earth.
Coming soon, Part Two of this Three Part Series on Hazing and Bullying in Sports.
© 2013, Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.