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Sympathy for the Day and Age

There was a day when coaches got physical with their players. There was a day where it was part of coaching. There was a time when coaches drove their players with a whip in one hand and a rod in the other. That time, regrettably, ended in the vicinity of the late 20th century.

College offers young men the opportunity to grow, mature and come of age. The transition from teenager to man is a rough and rocky road, and coaches at the college level often were, and are, on the frontlines of young man’s metamorphosis. Many times this transformation requires drastic means to get the attention of players.

Putting hands on a player, grabbing his facemask, kicking him in the butt, pulling him around the field in order to make a point — a point you wouldn’t soon forget — was commonplace when I attended West Virginia University.

But that was nothing new to me. I had watched my older brother practice at Syracuse University. The coaches screamed and hurled insults at players, roughed them up, dragged them around and got in their faces. And my younger brother would testify to witnessing the same kind of behavior while he was at WVU in the late 80s and early 90s.

It wasn’t a big deal for coaches to challenge players in order to make a point, even if it got physical. Players understood that it was nothing personal; it was just what most coaches did and it wasn’t frowned upon. He was the coach and you were the player. He was the master artisan and you were his clay.

This kind of coaching didn’t break me, turn me into a shrinking flower, or turn me into an angry psychopath (I don’t think). In fact, I love and respect the men that taught me, coached me, kicked me in the pants (literally), grabbed my facemask and challenged me to become a man. They wanted me to pay attention, grow, learn and be responsible for my development. In fact, consider this column to be a thank you letter to the men that got in my face, challenged me and helped me strengthen my resolve; and my brothers would say the exact same thing.

Although I realize being politically correct and never hurting little Johnny and his fragile, developing masculinity is reality in the Year of our Lord, 2013, I lament this reality and reject it in front of king and country. You should know this.

But what Mike Rice was doing to his players during practice at Rutgers University was inexcusable, inexplicable and insane. He had to be terminated because he made it personal with his players. He was out of control.

And yet, I have sympathy for Mike Rice. He clearly has anger issues and I hope he’ll master his anger and live a productive life. I have sympathy for the young men of his program that endured an out of control coach that made it personal with his players. But more than these, I have sympathy for the young men that no longer experience the harsh hand of a professional coach and the impact that coach could have on his life.

But it’s a good thing we’re more enlightened than our predecessors, isn’t it?