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Something Must Be Done
Rick Telander
October 02, 1989
By allowing big-time college football to flourish in its present form, the nation's universities are shamelessly exploiting the players and debasing themselves by perpetuating the myth of the 'amateur' student-athlete. Though the roots of this crisis are complex, the solutions are surprisingly simple
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October 02, 1989

Something Must Be Done

By allowing big-time college football to flourish in its present form, the nation's universities are shamelessly exploiting the players and debasing themselves by perpetuating the myth of the 'amateur' student-athlete. Though the roots of this crisis are complex, the solutions are surprisingly simple

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"Don't think!" yelled the coach. "Goddammit, react."

Not long after that I made a similar mistake, and the coach was equally incensed. I tried to make a lame excuse, but the coach interrupted me and said, "Why don't you think out there? Use your head for something other than a hat rack. Think!"

Do as I say, not as I do, has never been a good teaching motto. Players see their coaches berate referees, abuse rules of the game, chastise poor players, make exceptions for star players and, of course, leave whenever a better job comes along somewhere else. The players process all this and, subliminally at least, realize that all the little things their coaches are teaching them are fraudulent. Winning is all that matters.

Coaches who try to control their players' behavior through strict rules and try to control their thoughts through propaganda do a disservice to society. "To be disciplined requires self-control," writes the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. "To be controlled by others and to accept living by their rules or orders makes it superfluous to control oneself. When the more important aspects of a child's actions and behavior are controlled by, say, his parents or teachers, he will see no need to learn to control himself; others do it for him."

I have seen so many football players struggle with the basics of day-today living once they were out from under their coaches' wings—players who had trouble renting apartments, showing up for work on time, simply doing things on their own. Coaches, however, aren't concerned about the long-range effects of their teachings, because they are rooted in the here and now. They know they are far better off winning with antisocial people than losing with well-adjusted ones. Coaches give lip service to education only because they operate out of educational facilities.

I remember one of our assistant coaches at Northwestern telling our star linebacker, "Anybody can be a nuclear physicist—all you have to do is read them books—but it takes a man to play football." Coaches don't need well-rounded, erudite student-athletes; they need players who can knock your hat off. Coaches know that it is not in their best interest for their players to go to class, except as needed to remain eligible.

Getting an education is not an important part of a football player's training, particularly if that player has the tools to play in the NFL. When Florida State president Bernard Sliger was told that Deion Sanders hadn't brightened many classrooms during his senior year, he said, "I'll let the athletic director handle the matter...just as I would let the dean of any other school handle similar situations." That made former Florida State athletic director C.W. (Hootie) Ingram the dean of what? The School of Football?

It's nice that coaches sometimes try to keep alive the fiction that college football has something to do with college, but their recruitment of players who are obviously academically borderline (to be charitable) reveals their true values. Indeed, coaches have to say and do so many things they don't believe that it's a wonder they aren't all babbling schizophrenics. Charley Pell, who five years ago was dismissed as coach at Florida in the wake of an NCAA investigation, said that he had a secret agreement with then school president Marshall Criser to accept blame for all the NCAA charges, including those he didn't know about, to lessen turmoil at the school.

But just when you start to feel sorry for these guys, you hear about an Earle Bruce. Sports journalists expressed great sympathy for Bruce when Ohio State fired him at the end of the 1987 season, even though the Buckeyes were 81-26-1 during his nine years at the helm. After the next season he walked out on Northern Iowa with three years left on a four-year contract so he could skip to Colorado State. You investigate and you find that after the '72 season Bruce left the University of Tampa after only one year so he could take a job at Iowa State.

And we have LSU coach Mike Archer, whose fullback, Victor Jones, was arrested in 1987 for driving 123 mph. In defending Jones, Archer said, "He told me he was trying to get some bad gas out of his tank.... I believe him."

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