Happy Day after the 4th of July! I hope you got your bellies and the urge to fire deadly sounding fireworks into the wee hours of the night, filled. (I certainly hope my neighbors did :-/) As you try to get your bearings together after the long weekend, I wanted to make a few points regarding the firing of Sheryl Swoopes as Head Coach of Loyola University’s Women’s Basketball Team. I say a few, and mean a few, because we don’t have a lot of information about what exactly prompted the firing. We know that student-athletes wanted out, allegations were made, an investigation was conducted and Swoopes was fired. However, despite having those limited facts, people have miraculously begun forming opinions about the nature of Swoopes’ coaching style and the toughness of the student-athletes…mostly about the toughness of the student-athletes. In conversations that I’ve had and in status updates and tweets that I’ve seen, a disproportionate number of people have begun shaming the student-athletes for being soft and not old-school enough to handle tough coaching. As a former student-athlete and one who champions the rights of student-athletes, I can’t let that ride. So here are my questions/thoughts for those who have already reached the conclusion that the student-athletes are soft:
One. I ask those people, were you there? Undoubtedly, the answer to that question is, “nah.” So next I ask, well how can you say that the 10 out of 12 (that’s a lot by the way) student-athletes who wanted out were just being soft? You don’t know what the circumstances in the gym in Chicago were like. You don’t know if Swoopes was verbally abusive and unreasonable. You don’t know the student-athletes’ backgrounds or expectations. What you do know is that an alarming number of student-athletes said they could no longer play for a Hall of Fame coach. That’s a big deal. Something wasn’t right. Having the opportunity to be coached by one of the greatest talents your sport has ever seen is an opportunity no student-athlete takes lightly, trust me. They aren’t going to give that up because a coach is yelling too loudly or has them running too many suicides.
Two. What the heck is up with the notion that women who are getting scholarships to play basketball have to subject themselves to unduly harsh or abusive treatment? And what’s up with the belief that just because some men’s basketball coaches have and continue to act like abusive fools, that their behavior should somehow be the standard for acceptable coaching? No student-athlete deserves to be routinely embarrassed or shamed for the sake of winning. Student-athletes have the right to be treated as the students, humans, and the women they are, not just some tool to get championships. They should also be free and empowered to speak up when they aren’t being treated as they should be.
The job of a college coach is greater than producing wins. They are supposed to cultivate winners…on and off the court. And a winner is more than someone whose record is over .500. A winner is someone who is able to find success outside of their sport, put losses into perspective and encourage growth in others around them. That means that college coaches should be finding ways to motivate their student-athletes not humiliate and belittle them. They are supposed to be developing self-sufficient, strong women by using positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Coaches should be helping women understand that they don’t have to settle for less than humane, reasonable treatment.
Three. Just because she’s a Hall of Fame player doesn’t mean she was on her way to being a Hall-of-Fame coach. After 3 seasons at Loyola, Swoopes was 31-62. Before that, she coached at a high school for a year. While she has proven herself as a player, she certainly hasn’t proven herself as a coach. And yet, despite her proven shortcomings as a coach, a large population of people think that these women should be expected to deal with harsh treatment?! Poor treatment and no W’s?! In the words of the great Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” If you’re going to talk to people crazy, at least let them have a winning record to show for it.
Not one word of what I’ve written is in support of the claim that Swoopes overstepped the lines of acceptable coaching. If Loyola releases the findings of the investigation it could very well show that Swoopes was reasonable and the women and school administrators were not. I just want folks to be mindful of how quick they are to expect women to be willing to accept crappy treatment. We need to challenge the notions that harsh, demeaning coaching styles are the old-school, right and best way to develop winners. We need to expect more from our coaches and not be so quick to call someone soft who refuses to be humiliated.
How do you feel about the accusations against Swoopes and the state of student-athletes in this country? Let GladiatHers.com know what you think!