Perhaps the most revered coach ever, John Wooden, had a pet saying:
“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”
In many cases, Wooden’s heirs are not helping matters.
“You’ll have someone who’s otherwise a great coach,” said anti-domestic-violence advocate Ted Bunch, “and they might say to a kid, ‘You’ve gotta throw harder, you’re throwing like a … and you know what the next word is. This coach is not trying to harm girls, but is teaching boys not to value girls. We consciously and unconsciously do things that devalue women.”
That’s why Bunch and Tony Porter launched A Call to Coaches, to help “teach our teachers, empower them to give the right kind of message” in Bunch’s words. The organization will hold a seminar Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The sessions are free thanks to sponsorship by Verizon, and still have openings for interested coaches who would like to attend. (Register here.) The clinics have drawn 300 to 500 participants at stops in Seattle, Baltimore and Charlotte, N.C.
It’s all part of a larger goal built around combatting domestic violence and abuse against women and girls. This group is an offshoot of New York-based A Call to Men, which was founded a decade ago by Bunch and Porter.
Along with Bunch, Porter and Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings, one of the presenters will be Duluth Marshall boys’ basketball coach Carl Crawford, who has spent much of his adult life mentoring young men.
“I definitely believe that hate begets hate, and that’s where love and understanding come in,” Crawford said. “Someone has to come in and break that chain of hatred, and most of us don’t even have the tools to understand the signs [of abusive behavior]. Sometimes anger and hate are the only tool [teenage boys] have to deal with conflict.”
The clinic’s goal, said panelist Aaron Glass, is to help coaches know how to guide the boys and young men playing for them toward “healthy and respectful manhood.” He defines that as having three components: “The first is to have respect for oneself, then to have mutual respect for others and the third is to have some sense of community.”
Social media changed the game
Bunch said the program is “trying to go upstream around the issue” for reasons beyond the seemingly endless cycle of domestic and peer abuse.
For starters, age-old behaviors such as bullying, homophobia and misogyny now take place not only on the field and in the classroom but in the virtual world of social media.
“Technology completely changed the game through cyber-bullying,” Crawford said. “Young men have more access to negative information and how they can use it. I see coaching as an opportunity to address that.”
In addition, today’s boys generally have less supervision than did their predecessors, Glass argued.
“There is more opportunity for boys to venture down wrong or unproductive paths,” said Glass, a Verizon executive director and father of five.
How much has changed?
Bunch argues that a man’s upbringing and self-image have changed little in recent years.
“Our belief is that men are accustomed to being abusive because they are taught to be in control,” said Bunch. “The ‘man code’ has been: Be tough, don’t cry, take charge, don’t show any fear, be in control, you wear the pants in the family. Some of those are helpful in moderation.
“But we don’t develop the emotional side that is beneficial. It’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to be afraid, to acknowledge fear and say ‘I’m going to face it.’ Social norms have not necessarily caught up.”
Bunch added that he firmly believes many of today’s mentors can slow if not stop this pattern. Coaches want permission to let up on the machismo. They don’t want to be as hard with their players, he said.
“If the coach wants [a player] to go through that wall — if that kid knows love is on the other side of that wall — he’ll go through it much more than if he’s intimidated into doing it,” Bunch said. “We’re trying to teach the teachers — empower them to give this kind of message.”