A VICTORY FOR KUSH, NOT FOR HIS METHODS
Frank Kush, the deposed Arizona State football coach, has won the $2.2 million lawsuit brought against him by Kevin Rutledge, the former Sun Devil punter who accused Kush of punching him in the face on the sidelines during a game in 1978. On March 20, after hearing conflicting testimony about the incident from eyewitnesses, a Superior Court jury in Phoenix decided by a 5-to-3 vote that Kush hadn't punched Rutledge. Last week it disposed of the remaining issues in the three-month-long trial by holding, also by a 5-to-3 vote, that neither Kush nor Assistant Coach William Maskill had used physical or verbal abuse to run Rutledge off the team. By a 6-to-2 vote the jury cleared the university's regents and President John Schwada of allegations that they had breached Rutledge's scholarship contract and been negligent in overseeing Kush's activities.
The jury's findings added up to a sweet victory for Kush, who had lost his Arizona State job because of charges that he had lied to school officials about the Rutledge incident and had urged assistant coaches to do the same. But Kush's attorney, Warren Piatt, wasn't content merely to claim vindication for his client. He also insisted that the results of the case vindicated "athletics in general" and argued that a verdict in favor of Rutledge would have been "a dangerous thing for all collegiate and professional coaches."
Platt may have gotten a little carried away there. Gratifying though it obviously was to Kush and himself, the outcome of the case did nothing to alter some sordid truths about Arizona State's football program that the controversy over Rutledge's lawsuit brought to light. For one thing, the suit helped expose the undue power wielded by the school's booster club, the Sun Angel Foundation, a private organization that proved to be only too willing to use its substantial financial contributions to influence athletic-department policy. Furthermore, Rutledge's suit led to the unearthing of evidence of recruiting violations by Arizona State boosters and coaches, improper benefits to Sun Devil athletes and, most shocking of all, the use of bogus extension-course credits to try to keep football players academically eligible. Because of these transgressions, all of which occurred under Kush, Arizona State forfeited five victories in the 1979 season, was declared ineligible for last season's Pac-10 championship race and was hit with a two-year probation by the NCAA. All of which would appear to represent something other than a triumph for "athletics in general," as Piatt put it.
Equally dubious is Platt's intimation that Kush's courtroom victory is one that can somehow be shared by "all collegiate and professional coaches." In his opening statement at the trial, Rutledge's attorney, Robert Hing, called Kush a "sadistic animal," a characterization Hing then sought to justify by eliciting testimony from various witnesses that Kush had struck players with boards, ropes, tree branches and a metal rod, kicked them in the face, insulted and humiliated them in front of teammates, forced them to play while injured and put them through torturous conditioning drills until they were on the verge of collapse. In his own testimony Kush denied that he punched or kicked players but admitted having struck some of them with lengths of rope in "what I would call a fatherly, affectionate tap." He described his disciplinary methods as "kind of a learning process" designed to "eliminate the fear factor." Testifying in Kush's behalf, Herb Brooks, coach of the U.S. Olympic hockey champions, defended the. public criticism and physical disciplining of players as forms of "shock therapy" by which one can test an athlete's desire. Similarly, Duffy Daugherty, under whom Kush played football at Michigan State in the early 1950s, said that stern methods were sometimes effective in building team morale. This testimony apparently impressed the jurors, one of whom, 20-year-old Cynthia L. Krayer Shaidnagle, later told reporters, "Before this I never knew much about football. I understand now that it is a tough and violent game."
The outcome of the trial appeared to repudiate Fred Miller, who, as Arizona State's athletic director, had suspended Kush for allegedly trying to cover up details of the incident with Rutledge. Yet Miller, who was himself later fired as athletic director but remains at Arizona State as a physical education professor, told SI Reporter Brooks Clark that he still felt Kush's removal as coach had been justified, both because of an unshaken belief that Kush was lying as well as "the subsequent irregularities [found] in our football program." Miller also predicted that by exposing Kush's style of coaching to public scrutiny, the Rutledge trial will make many coaches more "cautious" in disciplining athletes.
"Today's player deserves much higher esteem than certain coaches give him," Miller said. "I think the notoriety of the trial has brought out the fact that coaching methods that were acceptable in the past may not be acceptable in the future. Those methods may be a dinosaur."
Though Miller is hardly a disinterested party on the subject of Frank Kush, one can only hope he is proved right in his expectations that Kushian coaching methods will fall into disfavor. Football is tough and violent, and Kush's 176-54-1 record during his 21� seasons at Arizona State suggests that his tactics do work, at least with some young men. But to conclude that those tactics are therefore both proper and inevitable is to accept a win-at-all-costs philosophy, one that, not incidentally, ignores the many coaches who succeed without so brazenly brutalizing or demeaning their players. Kush's methods may not have been criminal, nor, a jury has now concluded, did they justify the award of money damages. But those methods were wrong.
SULAIMAN, BY A DECISION
Jos� Sulaim�n also won a lawsuit last week, although in his case, unlike Kush's, there was nothing ambiguous about his exoneration. Sulaim�n, the powerful president of the World Boxing Council (SI, March 16), was a defendant in an antitrust suit brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by promoter Teddy Brenner, a suit that had hardly gone to trial before Judge Charles M. Metzner threw out several of Brenner's charges, including a pivotal one that Sulaim�n and promoter Don King had conspired to prevent Brenner from making a living. That left only Brenner's allegation that the WBC had suspended him unfairly and without a proper hearing following a dispute with King in 1979 over promotional rights to the fights of former WBC super-featherweight champion Alexis Arguello. After deliberating for 18 hours, the six-member jury unanimously rejected Brenner's allegation.