Since I have been a member of the AB team, I have had the fortunate opportunity to chronicle the challenges high school athletic administrators are facing in today's high-pressure, win-at-all-costs environment. We hear about all the steps that are being taken to protect the student-athlete from a physical standpoint, but what about from an emotional and psychological standpoint?
We, as parents, are trusting that coaches and administrators are looking out for our child's best interests versus prioritizing winning above everything else. We expect them to help our kids reach their full potential as an athlete and as a person, but sadly, throughout the years, this has proven to be a naive attitude.
While the majority of coaches and athletic directors continue to serve as role models, there have been far too many examples where coaches and/or athletic administrators failed student-athletes and their families. We continue to see hazing issues across the nation where young team members are subjected to humiliating and disgusting "initiation" practices. Abuse is not limited to athlete-athletes as coaches that sexually harass their athletes and/or engage in inappropriate relationships with their athletes continues to be the most reprehensible violation of trust. And let's not forget about the football coach that took an unusual approach to motivating his players. But the final and most common failure actually revolves around winning. It's not just the unethical steps coaches take to create and maintain a winning program, but the administrators who turn a blind eye to how those coaches achieve those goals. They look at final results only and ignore the casualties that occurred during that process. This is something that especially resonates with me.
My sophomore year in college, I broke my arm and had to redshirt my cross-country season. I then contracted walking pneumonia in the winter, which wiped out my indoor track season. I never got on track, pun intended, in outdoor track either, but worked hard that summer to get back in shape. Unfortunately, when I went to check in, I was told I owed more than $20,000. My full scholarship had been taken away from me… and no one ever told me. This was just one of many unethical and questionable actions taken by the coach of this program. Was any action taken by the university? No, because he had created a winning program for them. Rather than look out for their student-athlete, they opted to look out for this man, a man that contradicted everything this university, a Christian Brothers university, was supposed to stand for. Ultimately he was dismissed after numerous other issues got the attention of a certain athletic governing body, but the damage had been done. And like so many other student-athletes on the high school and collegiate level, the system I thought would protect me had, in fact, failed me.
The obstacles I had to overcome were extraordinarily minor compared to what other student-athletes have encountered. Even though it took four jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in school loans, I graduated from that university. Many others haven't been so fortunate. They have had their lives dramatically altered forever due to failure by athletic administrators and coaches to protect their student-athletes. And that must change. I am now a father of two young girls who will be competing in various sports, and as they develop, I am trusting that these coaches and administrators are looking out for my child's best interests rather than their own. Administrators, you have a responsibility to that athlete and his or her family, not to your coach. Your words and actions must leave no doubt where you stand on this subject.