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Cancel Culture is Alive in Athletics: Here is How We Thrive, Part II

Don't have time to read? Listen to the Fearless Podcast Cancel Culture Part II episode right here

For those of you who follow the Fearless platform through coaching, leadership and by extension, the journeys of those within our network, you may already know that my specialty is highlighting and solving challenges in higher education. More notably, in athletics where four months ago I published "Cancel Culture is Alive in Athletics. Here is How We Survive: Part I", with a promise to distribute part II.

Since that time, there have been some pretty big shake-ups in the world of higher education and our constituency of educators are clawing their way through the 2021 Fall semester trying to survive the effects of a post-pandemic-return-to-play. Our profession has become a much less promising place to work and our leaders have needed me more than any of us have needed this second installment but, here it is.

While the Fearless perspective is not always met with support or shared willingness to acknowledge the most alarming trends in our profession, we have attempted to emphasize solutions to the struggles of educators shackled by an impending extinction of basic standards. My desire to defend good coaches and educators who are being taken down by cancel culture has only intensified as more recently, another Fearless coach who is a former dual-sport NCAA athlete, Olympian, and thanks to a lack of her administration's spine and gender bias, is now an ex D-I NCAA head coach.

Our educators and coaches have had enough. We have hit a critical point where this has become a high urgency puzzle few decision-makers seem interested in solving while the remainder are content with hoping it may magically dissipate on its own. This is what I refer to as operating fearfully rather than fearlessly and naturally, the pandemic has accelerated the ugliness of it all.

As a result, it's time for a different angle to help drive the urgency home not just for coaches and teachers who are being axed, pressured, or exhausted out of our professions but, also another voiceless group that is completely overlooked.

The group I am referring to are those specific athletes and students who are genuinely craving the opportunity to partake in an experience that includes basic standards, boundaries, adversity, and rewards earned on merit and commitment. They do exist yet are being drowned out by the megaphones of the complainers. Through a better understanding of what is happening to this small but motivated subset hidden amongst the group of the perpetually unsatisfied, we can ignite awareness of the epidemic without having to draw such drastic party lines. How do we do this?

1. We must eliminate the "All Brush" from our glossaries.

The term "All Brush", refers to condemning or painting an entire group based on the actions of a few such as "All coaches as abusers" or "All athletes are entitled", "All cops are bad", "All doctors, all social workers", etc. We have become so polarized in our expressions of opinions and the fear of repercussion from disagreeing with one another that these societal effects are bleeding into professional industries and relationships and athletics is no exception.

2. We must acknowledge the elimination of our positions. No one is immune.

This is an attempt to humanize our athletic/educator population and highlight the overinflated buzz words and unfounded accusations that have led to careers being sabotaged. I want to open your eyes to the fact that people's lives are being turned upside down over something as simple as dissatisfaction over playing time, a grade, or disagreement in field positioning or strategy. For the most part, these career dismissals have been at the hands of an incredibly damaged population of post-pandemic student-athletes.

Equally to blame is a key demographic of fatigued administrators and alleged university leaders who are either selectively ignorant to this epidemic or too fatigued to expend energy on deciphering fact from fiction. Let's also not forget the group that is more than happy to allow its athletes to run the university so they can have automatic legal cover when they fire employees in retaliation for requesting equal treatment for their program.

3. We must acknowledge that toxic members of teams or groups dressed as victims exist.

If you have ever been part of any team in any capacity, the undeniable figures of intentional culture disruptors exists. I am not speaking about the young immature player who needs some time and guidance to develop or needs some extra encouragement, nor am I suggesting that any leader should dismiss efforts to bring those disruptors around to get on board. I am only asking that we first acknowledge their existence.

I realize that this is hard for any parent, teammate, or student to believe, and right about now the mob on the other side of the computer or smartphone reading this is pinning that behavior on the coach and urging them to just “believe in the athlete” or “help them grow and to teach them”.

I agree with the role of the educator playing a part in working with troubled athletes or students. However, if most of you knew even a fraction of how truly taxing it has become as an educator to assist young adults who are repeatedly retaliating in the most malicious of ways against anyone attempting to offer them expansion in their growth, you may have a bit more empathy for why our group is so tired. I have been writing about this topic for years garnishing your silent likes and private emails from those confirming what I already know is not only transpiring across the board, but rapidly accelerating.

4. Reframe our responsibility to the professional world to help change our motives.

As a reminder, we are the ones setting up future employers of our athletes and students to be crushed or canceled. The repercussions of this pattern and enormity of the issue are not solely affecting coaches or educators but, also the athletes and the students themselves as we send our next generation of college grads out into the world armed with resumes that include accolades such as anonymously having their coaches or professors fired. Add in the calculated skillset for dealing with hard conversations or conflicts by quitting their profession via viral Instagram post and we can officially no longer claim that athletes are the most employable. Coaches, teachers, and really anyone in an authority position now has two rapidly shrinking choices which are to be silenced or be removed. We are losing the middle ground and our allowance for space to work to be better or improve has been eliminated by tweets and social media bullhorns calling for heads without context or evidence. I urge you to continue to read on without surrendering to the temptation to pick one side or the other. Both the coach and the athlete matter so stay balanced as you read on. I am writing to encourage, motivate and recognize those doing it for all the right reasons and with the healthiest of intentions who are having careers sabotaged and futures dimmed.

5. Recruit the right ones, to fight this battle.

I am not writing to only defend coaches or to paint young adults as the only problem. I am here to send a plea to every one of our athletes within our teams who are desperately trying to negotiate the experience they signed up for while institutions are actively dumbing down the pathways and curriculums for the masses to suit those individuals with the lowest level of interest, commitment, and accountability.

Educators, as you trudge through this year trying extra hard to identify leaders in a haystack and rack your brains out over why your constituency is so divided, confused, mistrusting, unwilling to compete, and reluctant to buy into the standard of your program, please allow me to redirect you in focusing on the handful of individuals that are screaming for the experience we are desperately fighting to preserve.

We could all just call this a war on coaches or even a war on women coaches since women coaches in my experience, has been 10 times more likely than males to be targeted by student-athlete dissatisfaction. However, throughout all of the cases I’ve seen or been a part of and the Fearless coaches I have worked with, I have been forced to evolve in my diagnosis of this systemic issue. This may be creeping closer to becoming less of a war on coaches or even women coaches than a war on basic standards, accountability, and anything that resembles the dying concept of the non-negotiable. Women just happened to be the first of the casualties early on.

Despite this battle waged by the athletes who express dissatisfaction over simple feedback, basic instruction, or anything that deals with the intangible parts of being a good contributor or team member, I urge you to empower and highlight the ones willing to work through the darkest parts of their journey with only curiosity, enthusiasm and trust in their arsenal. You can start by sending them this article to let them know you see them.

6. Support those athletes who are outnumbered.

Another area under attack is the athlete-to-athlete relationship where there is an active movement by the small disgruntled factions who hold hostage the commodities of social capital and inclusion as means to influence others to move away from the standard in place. The sleepless nights so many of us commit to figuring out a way through the thick of team conflict or lack of buy-in are also impacted by the efforts of those disruptors to weaken the resolve of the less vocal who choose to operate in facts rather than feelings. Although those with buy-in believe in the system of basic standards and desire high performance, the incoming competitors you recruited to assist in build or re-build culture are being boxed out, shamed, or isolated into conforming the moment they arrive. Discord between teammates has become too difficult and uncomfortable for them to navigate due to so little practice. The natural response to this has become for them to push anyone out, including their leaders, who presents consequences or even a level of required preparedness for competition or challenge. I know it’s frustrating as a leader when you have those few that get it. You watch them and work with them on their struggle to develop the tools to scale their work ethic or voice to have their best values go viral amongst the squad. Please do not give up on them.

7. Avoid allowing your frustration in this process to take charge. The right ones are listening.

At times, I know the unresponsiveness or silence of your player allies during big team moments can be disheartening but, rest assured that it is not a sign that they do not want to support the standard or the program mission. The silence from those who are on board is a survival mechanism in the jungle of their social structure that they must endure the other 21 hours per day in your absence. This is precisely why the go-getter recruit you watched for 2-3 years on the scouting trail who is now a junior on your squad has opted to go quiet and keep the peace with the mob of their peers. This doesn't mean they have lost their drive, but it may mean they are frozen in figuring out how to do more than lead by example when the vast majority of their teammates refuse to look up from their phones long enough to emulate the most positive behaviors.

Across the spectrum of your exhaustion as an educator are your priorities in where to place your energy. Those few athletes who offer active nonverbal are the ones who are so hungry for connection. Offering that connection to them often and rewarding them for their engagement is what is causing the now wildly popular "coach has favorites" accusation.

Do not fear that, own it. There's nothing fairer than offering praise to those who are completing their tasks

. 8. Share the Fearless message with no apologies to those attempting to silence and cancel.

To those who do not want the basic standard of performance, tell them it’s ok to tag out. Explain that they do not have to finish what they started or work to desecrate the experience for everyone else in the process of their decision to quit. Just because it’s not for them, does not mean they have the right to deny it to everyone else by removing, canceling, orchestrating, or sabotaging leaders and educators with whom they disagree. The pendulum is swinging so hard the other way, those of us they are trying to banish due to their desire to manufacture excuses in place of ownership - we are going to start fighting back and The Fearless Coach is here for all of it. No one is claiming every educator and coach is a good one nor should any of us be immune to being held accountable for bad behavior. I support doing the right thing and we can all do that without destroying the good ones during the hunt for the few.

No one is claiming every educator and coach is a good one nor should any of us be immune to being held accountable for bad behavior. I support doing the right thing and we can all do that without destroying the good ones during the hunt for the few.

Cancel Culture fans: Our educators and our coaches are sick of being wrongfully terminated based on uncontrolled feelings and litigious fear by institutions so it might be time to be more mindful about language and lock down those anonymous student Google docs we know you have been stockpiling for that rainy complaint day.

While the mantra about individuality, equality is rightfully being given a voice, the unmoving commitment to not align their behavior for the good of the team is an incredibly arduous and disruptive equation for a coach, captain, or admin to solve. This idea that all opinions are valid, everyone is right and no one is wrong will continue to prove itself to be highly problematic in the operations and maintenance of teams both inside and outside athletics.

9. Support those who live the standard by offering them our patience.

When you think you are alone as a coach, remember your young players who subscribe to the value of being held accountable are often vulnerable to the temptation of trading their resolve for the dopamine rush produced by the communal complaining session about coach, policy, or teammate(s). These are normal and temporary slips so try not to obsess over that dynamic to the point you are driving yourself crazy. Bring your focus back to the individuals who still have an interest in structure, early morning strength sessions, increasing their sports IQ, desire to be on time, and those who elect to sign up for extra individual work because they love the game. Even if they are not the most talented or quickest study, this behavior sends clear messages about values and standards. These are the same students who turn their papers in on time, never ask for extensions, and accept that the syllabus is provided as a guide, not a flexible tool to identify loopholes in a professor's planning or fitness level as an educator.

10. Hold. The. Line.

In the face of all that is happening it is the path of least resistance to coach in fear and t