Coaches can be bullying victims, too

As the nation sees in former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice the ultimate in repellent on-court behavior, viewers tut-tut about the rise of dictatorial coaches.

However, the fact remains the coach-as-bully is learned behavior, and it starts early – from the parents of the players.

You’ve seen it before. Parents band together to get a coach fired, or an angry adult takes on a coach. Is it an unfortunate reality we have to live with, or should parents have to undergo sensitivity training and anti-bullying seminars?

In a sports management class I teach, we use Michael Lewis’s book, “Coach,” about his old-school baseball coach and the troubles he encountered with parents of his players. Many of my students are athletes and volunteer coaches, and one asked, “Why do parents have to get so involved?”

Why do parents get so involved?

It is either to gain advantage/favor for one’s own child or to guard against other parents who are trying to gain favor/advantage, to indirectly shield your child against another parent’s effort to bully or muscle the coach? Are either of these reasons justification for parents to be involved in the management of school teams?

Well, no.

I played baseball through high school and college. My family moved to a new town right before I started high school. It didn’t take me long as a freshman to figure out that the team was decided already. I would confront my God-among-men high school baseball coach for a chance. It wasn’t until my senior year that I became a periodic starter. I didn’t do myself any favors by challenging my coach.

Parents were at practice and all the games. I never gave it much thought. My own parents were pretty busy. My dad made my games when he could.

When I became a parent, it was obvious some parents were highly skilled at getting things for their kids – at bullying coaches to help their kids. So, do you just stand by, or do you play defense?

Fortunately, I got help where I often go when I am seeking insight: “South Park.” The “Butterballs” episode takes a thoughtful look at bullying.

The punch line is that bullying isn’t just something that happens to kids in grade school. Bullying is part of our culture. Many of us with leverage – money, power, social status – will bully.

If you have leverage, you sometimes use it, even if you think you are the most fair-minded person you can imagine.

What should one do about parent bullying of coaches? Nothing. There are some things you just have to live with, and this type of bullying is one of them. You will live a better-adjusted life if you accept that there are some things you can’t do anything about.

It might be more sensible to recognize the bullies for what they are and trust that their influence will be minimal or maybe even detrimental to their own interests.

Simply put, you will be playing a game that is so ill structured that if you “win,” it will be unclear what it is you have won – and your winning will have been by accident.

Randy Rosenberger is a professor of business at Juniata College.