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How Schools are Getting it Wrong on Athlete Abuse

I hardly ever include men's sports in my writing unless I am making a comparison in treatment but in the spirit of the excessive number of female coach witch hunts taking place at Georgia Tech and UNC, coupled with Muffet McGraw's public statement about empowerment, it feels like it's time.

A close friend of mine is a former student-athlete of D-I mid major college football. We were chatting last week discussing the topic of athlete abuse and the current wave of accusations against female coaches. As I was going off, he just started laughing and said:

"You know, I think it's hilarious that all these female athletes are crushing their own female coaches for looking at them sideways while me and 80 of my teammates in college got absolutely torn to shreds every single day for four years playing college football."

I paused. I didn't laugh because it's not funny.

I actually felt bad for him, but he was sharing an intriguing observation. I've heard horror stories about entire college football coaching staffs terrorizing their athletes. In addition to football, I've heard some of the most stomach churning male treatment stories in soccer, lacrosse and baseball. You may have even read about these stories but after the head shaking shock value wears off, you move on. We are conditioned to believe that these are just a few bad apple reports and that this isn't happening on a broader scale. This would be a fine assumption if currently institutions were directing their investigations into men's programs to the same degree they are launching aggressive full-scale character attacks on women coaching veterans like MaChelle Joseph and Sylvia Hatchell.

Out of curiosity, I asked my friend to share an average day-in-the-life of NCAA mid major D-I football in the mid 2000s. This is what he shared:

"Oh sure, college football had it's perks, we got lots of free protein bars and an unlimited meal plan so we could gain weight but when do you find time to eat? How about starting the day at 5 am with a sh**load of sprints with a coach screaming in your face calling you a p***y every time your foot touches the line. My favorite was when I was sick as hell and coughing like crazy throwing up on the turf as a coach squirted water in my face and told me to get my a** back on the line. Then you get to leave conditioning and go to class for three hours and take tests that you had no time to study for because you were up until midnight running stadium steps with weights in your back pack for missing a block like, 5 games ago. So after class you try to get to an academic appointment but instead a teammate tells you that your coach wants to see you guys before lift. You go see the coach and he screams at you for a solid 30 minutes pounding on his desk telling you that you need to get 2.5 hours of weight lifting in every day and eat more calories because you are skinny piece of sh** that is going to have his scholarship taken away if he doesn't gain 20 pounds now. The 30 minutes you spent getting yelled at made you miss your check-in with your tutor who was going to help you with that paper that was 50% of your grade but screw it, you are already failing and I'm here to play football not go to school, right? Day off? Yeah, those are mandatory but they do not exist in college football, just like practice hour limits are a myth. No one is checking on it so it doesn't even matter who you tell because you are surrounded by coach loyalists all the time and even the athletic trainers are afraid to stand up to them. Guys get played with concussions and injuries because Coach wouldn't be happy if the trainer tells them they are out. After coach gets done screaming at you, you get ready to go to practice for the next 2.5 hours where you are called a fa**** and a p***y 20 times an hour as motivation. After practice, you get to go to another class and during it you get to read your binder about all the workouts, plays and weightlifting sessions coach is adding to your next day. On the way to go grab dinner, the assistant coach calls your dorm room and has your roommate come get you to tell you that you have more film to watch and this makes it so your day doesn't end again until 11:30 at night. So yeah, did I love being on the team and making lifelong friends from football, yeah, but honestly, I would rather stick a coat hanger up my a** than do it again."

This conversation was eye-opening as I have known my friend for years and had never heard these stories before. He certainly didn't talk about it while in college and when I asked him why he never did and he said he feared his coach would come after him and take his scholarship. This sounds far from a positive college experience but what continues to be alarming is the latest trend in institutions trying to nail female coaches to the cross in retaliation for voicing concerns over Title IX inequity. This isn't new and it has been going on steadily for more than two decades. With athlete abuse as a current hot button item, schools have figured out just how to remove whistleblowers legally by using a few unhappy athletes.

As this attack on women in athletics ensues, schools are so preoccupied trying to muzzle their advocate women coaches that they are refusing to even a glance in the direction of their male coaches and staffs on the other side of campus.

As my friend explained his day-in-the life recap I thought less about his coach that he painted as a villain than I did the hundreds of eyes that witnessed every practice by that coach and the thousands of hours of film and documentation that departments have access to that would expose this kind of behavior, but oddly enough, no one is looking at any of it. Why? Because ultimately athletic departments couldn't care less about what happens to their male athletes as much as they care about cleansing their departments of non-revenue producing female coaches who question the system.

Countless football and men's basketball programs own their players like servants of the game and those servants are there to produce, not to create lasting positive memories of competing as an intercollegiate athlete. The only athlete feedback these departments are interested in is the kind that can come in handy when they need to get rid of a female coach who questions the system or perhaps gains just a little too much social capital and independence for their comfort.

The only athlete feedback these departments are interested in is the kind that can come in handy when they need to get rid of a female coach who questions the system or perhaps gains just a little too much social capital and independence for their comfort.

Most celebrated male coaches are not a pain to the department in the same way strong women coaches are. If you are a male football coach and you have everything you need, it's virtually impossible to be branded a complainer. Instead, you are considered a producer of high value and treated as such as a male coach in a revenue sport. When you are a woman who coaches female athletes who are treated by your school as second class citizens, your open disagreement with anything makes you the opposite of a team player in your department's eyes. You are not a "revenue producer" as a woman in your space and therefore you are expendable and player opinion is more than 90% of your grade.

You are not a " revenue producer" as a woman in your space and therefore you are expendable and player opinion is more than 90% of your grade.

You are free to continue supporting male coaches using questionable tactics in order to get results out of their male athletes, but while you are celebrating tough male coaches and the nostalgia of engrained machismo in men's sports, institutions are using female coaches as means to rid their department of equal footing opportunities and voices.

Administrators are simply pretending that they care about the safety and well-being by indulging unsatisfied female athletes, yet are simultaneously ignoring all oversight of the male athletes who are pawns in the game of college tickets sales. Organized ignorance over these issues in men's sports takes actual effort. The amount of football staff members complicit as witnesses to this kind of behavior is terrifying to think about. The small scale staff of a female coach with an average of 15 players is now completely under the microscope with investigations to attempt to prove she is abusive, while the football staff of 30+ overseeing 90 male athletes on a daily basis, goes completely unchecked.

I'm not asking you to side with Sylvia Hatchell, MaChelle Joseph, Robin Sparks, Petra Martin, Sue Parker and the countless other women who have been let go in an identical fashion. (If you don't know any of these names, it makes complete sense why you would jump head first onto the athlete abuse bandwagon.)

What I am asking you to do is question why one gender seems to escape scrutiny while the other is consistently in the hot seat in the news. Universities create the story they wanted exposed. UNC's AD Bubba Cunningham has never been a supporter of Hatchell but it wasn't enough to get rid of her during the academic scandal on the men's side that they pinned on the women's basketball coach.

If you truly believe Coach Hatchell, after three decades, somehow "lost touch" with her players or just randomly became a homophobic, racist, abuser in year number 33, then you are still completely in the dark on what the world of women college coaching is like and are eating up what the press is translating from UNC.

I am not dismissing the notion that there are abusive coaches out there. I am not claiming it is strictly a male issue. What I am doing is asking you to think about is whether or not you believe that covert abuse would be more likely occur in men's sports that are expected to win and produce dollars, than in women's athletics whom get 1/4 of the coverage, support and resources.

You might believe that administrators are now looking harder into abuse because they are concerned for athlete welfare. However, they are only investigating the sports and gender that they do not care about because it's on easy kill and donor loss isn't at risk on a broad scale. If this trend was truly about athlete safety you would see far more investigations into the money-making sports that treat their athletes like livestock. Administrators cannot risk investigating into their football programs because that has such a high potential to unearth scandal, damage profit margins on ticket sales, NCAA violations and they simply can't have that distracting them from their cash cow games.

The care and concern and rash of investigations into women's sports is simply a slight of hand, or a magic trick. If everyone is busy dismissing whistleblower women coaches, no one has time to care for the NCAA male athletes who are being exploited on a daily basis under the guise of the process known as "making men into boys". Let's start talking about this seriously and acknowledging the pattern because we are far from the road to change without it.

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