Despite stereotypes, abuse of student athletes comes from both genders.
Thank goodness. It appears that women can be just as domineering as men when it comes to coaching.
I joke, of course. Women have always been the equal of men when it comes to competitive spirit, but it’s only within the last 40 years that it’s become broadly accepted for women to channel their competitiveness into athletic pursuits. So it really should come as no surprise that women’s college basketball has now given us a coach to match Mike Rice, who was fired this past March as coach of the men’s basketball team at Rutgers University for physically and verbally abusing his players.
As we gave that story extensive coverage (see here and here), I thought it only fair to offer a few thoughts on Beckie Francis, who was fired last month as head coach of the women’s basketball team at Oakland University in Michigan. Little explanation was given at the time for the removal of a fairly successful coach, though her team last year won only 9 games. However, last week a laundry list of emotionally abusive and, frankly, bizarre behavior was revealed. USA Today has a fairly lengthy expose of the misdeeds here.
Highlights include lectures on the need for players to maintain their virginity (assuming, that is, they entered school as virgins in the first place), enforcing a no fraternization rule with the men’s basketball team (presumably to help maintain said assumed virginity), pressuring players to attend Christian religious services, fixating on players’ weight, to such an extent that 4 of the players on last year’s team developed eating disorders, and generally attempting to control all aspects of the players’ lives both on and off the court.
There are parallels between the Mike Rice story and the Beckie Francis story, most significantly the lethargic nature of the institutional responses to each. The video that led to Mike Rice’s dismissal was first brought to the attention of university officials in November of last year, when they fined Rice $75,000 for his behavior, but it wasn’t until the video was leaked to ESPN in March that they gave any thought to firing him. Some commentators have noted the coincidental timing of the original disciplinary decision and the school’s negotiations for entry to the Big Ten Conference—a move that stood (stands) to make the school millions of dollars—negotiations that some surmised could have been upset if what was on the video became public earlier than it did.
In Beckie Francis’s case, the slow institutional response is a little easier to explain. She was married to the university’s president, who resigned suddenly the same day that his wife’s dismissal was formally announced. As the USA Today story points out, Francis’s annual performance reviews, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, were uniformly excellent during her 13 seasons as head coach, despite which an investigation was launched this spring into her bizarre behavior. What prompted the investigation? And if there was enough concern to launch an investigation, why weren’t those concerns ever reflected in her earlier performance reviews? And what might be the most patently obvious question of all, could her excellent performance reviews have had anything to do with being married to the boss?
In both cases, the adults, as they seem to do all too often, were far more concerned about themselves than they were about the young people who were in their care. They lost sight of their primary responsibility: the development of their players not just as players, but as students and, most importantly, people. This goes equally for Coaches Rice and Francis and the university officials who enabled their abusive behavior.