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Concessions—and Lies
John Underwood
September 08, 1969
Some coaches are ready to make extreme efforts to relate to the new breed of student-athletes—who are really athlete-students. Others are fed up with so-called appeasement and clamor for a return to discipline and authority. But almost everyone agrees it's high time the kids were told the truth
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September 08, 1969

Concessions—and Lies

Some coaches are ready to make extreme efforts to relate to the new breed of student-athletes—who are really athlete-students. Others are fed up with so-called appeasement and clamor for a return to discipline and authority. But almost everyone agrees it's high time the kids were told the truth

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Those successful coaches who are in solid with their administrators, who are beloved by alumni and athletes and who have not been hit by The Problem can risk forceful statements on the subject. John McKay of USC is one of these, and he is undoubtedly correct when he says the pitfall in any study of the coaches' dilemma is to ignore the fact that coaches are individuals, too.

"Don't categorize," says McKay. "My daddy used to tell me, 'Don't categorize.' All blacks aren't lazy. All WACs aren't whores. All coaches aren't the same. We grow older. We forget.

"All right, what did happen at Berkeley? Some kids joined the BSU? That's not against the law. Some kids became hippies? That's not against the law. If you don't allow for individual differences, you won't be a good leader. I never try to treat everybody equally, I try to treat everybody fairly. Who recruited those 120 players at Maryland? Did the president? Did the alumni? I don't know Bob Ward, but if I had 120 players stand up against me, I'd get out tomorrow.

"You can't stand still. Professors on this campus have long hair. My boss has long sideburns. I always wore a crew cut but I don't anymore. The big reason is that I'm getting a little bald. But times change. My daughter Suzie was getting ready for a big function at school. She had on a very short miniskirt. I said, 'You're not going out in that.' She said, 'But Daddy, it's no shorter than what everybody else wears.' When we got there I saw how right she was, and the shortest skirts in the place were on the mothers."

The reasonable coach joins John McKay in the conviction that a successful accommodation between him and his players is possible—and will benefit the campus as a whole. "We can't be hypocrites," says Johnny Pont. "We can't bill ourselves as character builders any longer and not pay attention to that aspect of our athletes." Jim Owens believes if the coaches cannot solve the black-white problem on campus, in what amounts to a controlled environment, then no one can. "I've become a very reasonable man," says Darrell Royal of Texas, "and the transformation wasn't painful at all."

But other coaches feel that accommodation to alien beliefs will only result in more grief and the need for more appeasement. For these, a return to the old ways is the answer. Vic Rowen of San Francisco State is one who is turning back. Rowen is the football coach; he has a doctorate in education, a firm chin, a rugged build and an appreciation for simple solutions from his days with the 101st Airborne. At San Francisco State Rowen has experienced attacks on his program and his person; a commandeering of athletic funds by a radical student government; a hostile faculty; a frightened (pre-Hayakawa) administration; campus riots, injuries, arrests. Last year he couldn't give letter jackets to his players because no money was available.

But Vic Rowen claims he found out something during the long months of travail and he has reached a few conclusions that comfort him. "We're through being exploited," he says. "When kids came to us and told us we didn't understand them because we were white or weren't in their age group or whatever, we were befuddled. We tried to reevaluate. What was wrong? Where did we fail? We went through the whole thing with the psychologists, and do you know what we found? We found the psychologists have the real problems.

"Our approach now is not to be exploited again. We're going to have a return to discipline. An athlete knows discipline. He reacts better under stress than a nonathlete. On this campus we may have saved the whole school from collapse. I think it meant something to our kids to stand up for Dr. Hayakawa and to put that American flag back up when it was torn down.

"What coaches have been doing all these years is not archaic. We're the last chance for the preservation of dignity on campus, and I say that without trying to be heroic or corny. Coaches understand young people, they always have. They understand them better than deans, counselors, psychologists and professors, because we're the only ones charged with making something more of what we have—the kids. The others are too far removed to realize it."

What coaches seem to need most—and this probably applies both to those who go along with McKay and Pont and those who agree with Rowen—is to be reassured of what their role should be, not because they have lost sight of it but because others no longer think it is valid. Dr. Arnold Beisser, a UCLA psychiatrist, contends in his book The Madness in Sports that coach and father are parallel anachronisms in our society, that the father has already lost and the coach is "the remaining stronghold of the archaic family structure." Dr. Beisser sees the coach as reduced to a position of equality with his players and therefore no longer able to relate to them in the classic way. Coaches, naturally, resist any such analysis. Destroy the coach-player relationship, a Vic Rowen would say, and you make coaching meaningless.

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