Sexual abuse by a college coach is in the news again, this time by an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse. This case is a little more in doubt than the Jerry Sandusky case, but the likelihood is that there is merit to the accusations. The news Friday night showed old footage of the coach, Bernie Fine, patting a player on the behind. I think it's safe to say we won't be seeing this goofy practice any more. I always thought the ubiquitous pats on the rear end a bit creepy. It's not something I have ever done, nor had it done to me.
I believe it is safe to say that these sex abuse reports are going to be coming out of the woodwork. The probability that these two cases are isolated incidents is extremely low, for the simple reason that sexual predation of all kinds is a characteristic of our culture, and the power that coaches wield on our college campuses is vastly out of proportion to their contributions to the education of students.
Football in particular is vulnerable to sexual shenanigans. The game itself is a kind of sexualized violence. When the quarterback reaches under the center to "call the signals" he puts his top hand against the other player's anal sphincter and testicles. This is totally weird, but it is done everywhere. Then the center "hikes" the football between his legs into the quarterback's waiting hands, whereupon the quarterback either runs, passes, or hands the ball off to one of his "running backs." Players block, clobber and grab each other in an orgy of violent physical contact, often injuring each other for life. Fans go wild watching this spectacle, and spend billions of dollars a year to work themselves into states of intense excitement before, during and after games.
In my previous post I wrote about some of the coaches I have encountered in my life. I forgot one of my favorite stories. In 1978 I worked at the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like the name says, it is directly across the street from the University of Michigan campus. On the nights before home football games the U of M football team would be sequestered there to keep them focused on the next day's game. My job included valet parking of cars, bellman, and driving airline flight crews (Pan Am, Northwest) to and from the Detroit Airport. Among the notables whose cars I parked were Warren Zevon ($1 tip, thanks) and Ella Fitzgerald (No tip. I even carried her luggage. Ba dweep doodly bop bow!)
I enjoyed the Campus Inn. It was a pretty relaxed place to work, and all kinds of goofy things happened there. There was a waitress I worked with who was so completely dumb, sincere and gorgeous that I just had to fall completely in love with her. There was a second restaurant near the lobby, and one day a customer started choking on some food. The stupid waitress went into a panic and ran one way, stopped suddenly, and ran the other way, completely helpless, without a clue as to what to do. She was so innocent and selfless that I think it was then that my heart was stolen. She had the same kind of flowing strawberry blond hair as Farrah Fawcett, but was far more beautiful. I wonder what ever became of her. She deserved a lot better than she would likely ever get.
One of the steady customers at the Campus Inn was the U of M football coach Bo Schembechler. He had recently been divorced, so he would meet at the hotel with his assistant coaches and other hangers on in what today would be called a "posse." They would all come in on Sunday mornings for a late breakfast, yuk it up for a while, and then leave. I would here them say things like "Let's go to Bo's place for beer and pizza." Or just "Let's go over to Bo's to watch the game." Boys' night out every day of the week.
One Sunday morning Bo came in by himself after parking his Chevy Suburban (precurser to the now omnipresent SUV) in the "tunnel" alongside the hotel. I told him he couldn't park there because it was a fire lane. The term fire lane has meaning. If there is a fire in the hotel, fire trucks need to get through the tunnel to where they can best locate to fight the fire. This meant nothing to Bo Schembechler. He breezed on past me as if I weren't there, not even bothering to look at me.
The street-facing restaurant was near enough to the front desk that conversations could be heard both ways. I groused to the front desk clerk about how Bo Schembechler was so arrogant that he thought he was too good to move his vehicle out of the fire lane. I went on about his post-season record, saying louder than I realized, "He can't even win a bowl game." At that point he had not won a bowl game, though he did later.
Bo and his posse never came back. I didn't miss them. He was just another arrogant coach to me. A few years later I was amused to watch him penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct at the Bluebonnet Bowl, a feat he reprised in his final game, the 1990 Rose Bowl (which he lost).
C'est la vie. By now a syndrome should be forming. Another coach story might make it clearer. When I moved to Madison in the early 1990s the easiest kind of work to find was in building maintenance, having worked in the construction trades and maintenance work for about twelve years. I found a job doing maintenance at a motel on the far east side of town, which sufficed until I could find something better. Most of what I did was painting rooms, with a lot of snow removal in the winter.
In March of every year the state wrestling and basketball tournaments are held at the University of Wisconsin, and every hotel and motel in town gets filled to capacity. The basketball team that stayed in the motel where I worked was in one of the smaller divisions, and I can't remember if they won or not. One thing I do remember is the partying that went on in the motel rooms. Not surprisingly, the cheerleaders paired-up with the basketball players, spending the night in the various rooms. The following morning was nonstop mayhem, with teenagers running around in the halls, going from room-to-room, and with some rooms remaining as private liaisons between intimate pairs. It was up to the coaches and teacher chaperons to get the students check out in time and on the buses to head home.
I remember one coach in particular, because he went around knocking on doors and demanded to be let in. A girl behind one of the doors said "I'm indisposed." The coach replied, "That's OK! I seen it before." He was almost a caricature of the dumb coach. "I seen it before" revealed his command of the English language. The "it" he referred to revealed his purpose for demanding to be let in. He said nothing about getting checked out and on the bus. He just wanted in on an obviously private and intimate situation between two students. If he had seen "it" before, he did something in the past that he shouldn't have been doing.
The coach and the chaperons were doing an irresponsible and incompetent job of chaperoning the students. Teenagers will be teenagers, but the adults in charge are supposed to be adults. Instead, what I saw was adults trying to be teenagers. I only worked at one motel during one championship season in one out of fifty states. If you extrapolate this to fifty states in championships throughout the school year every year, the creepiness of coaches is a silent epidemic.
I have yet another coaching story. During the early 2000s I worked as a substitute teacher when my regular job was slow. One day in about 2004 I was called to teach Physical Education (P.E., or Phy. Ed, as they say in Wisconsin) at one of the local high schools. The coach who taught the class was in his office when I arrived, but had to leave soon. He told me the last period was a coed class, and I wouldn't be able to get them to do anything. I had encountered this kind of attitude many times when substitute teaching, and thought "We'll see."
The class was indeed a challenge. They didn't dress in P.E. clothes, and weren't very interested in doing the day's activity, a softball game. I took the easy approach, telling them they could play in their street clothes, they could have mixed male and female teams, and that they could be on whichever side they wanted.
It worked. They played the entire hour, had great fun, and the most resistant girl in the class thanked me afterwards and shook my hand. One guy in the class was built like a football player, but a "troubled youth" type. He hit a long shot to the outfield, and ended up rounding the bases and sliding home head first. He was so happy I started feeling verklempt. Everyone on both teams cheered when he scored. These kids were the outcasts. I didn't treat them as outcasts, and they did as well as anyone, and had fun doing it.
One time when I was subbing in the 70s I was called to teach a high school math class whose regular teacher was the tennis coach. The kids weren't learning much. They told me all the teacher did was brag about his college fraternity. I got them working, except for one poor kid who the coach ignored completely. I thought taking an interest in him might help, but he was way behind the class, and it was too embarrassing for him to receive any attention. He should have been in special education, and certainly shouldn't have been in a class taught by a coach.
What all these stories have in common is the arrogance, self-focus, and irresponsibility of coaches I have encountered over the years. There were others who weren't so bad, but I would put them in the extreme minority. The ones I have described are the more typical. When you compound their already limited contributions to society with outlandishly high pay in college football and basketball, you can expect trouble. We have been seeing the results for decades, but now the dark side of the coaching profession is exploding in our faces.
Beyond just coaching, the culture of sports has reached a level of hyperbole that is obscene. Like the overinflated housing market of a few years ago, it had to come crashing down. With these pedophile scandals in sport the bubble has now burst. Along with the Occupy Wall Street movement, maybe we should start an Occupy college administration buildings movement. That's where the decisions are made. I wouldn't recommend an occupy athletic departments movement. It would be seen as anti-athlete.
Beyond sports, we are at a tipping point for which there is no turning back. Our system is corrupt. Not totally corrupt, but sufficiently corrupt. Sufficient for it to break down. The more it breaks down, the more that it will be broken down. A broken-down social system cannot be repaired. Witness the Soviet Union. Something new is on the way.
This is a good read on the Jerry Sandusky saga.
This would be a good theme song for Jerry Sandusky.