How can this happen at Rutgers?
I am a Rutgers Alum, and thrilled with the education I earned “on the banks”. I am a former student athlete and two year letter winner in volleyball at Rutgers. I have served as the Director of Academic Support for Student Athletes at Rutgers during the eight years my career brought me back to my alma mater. So, of course I have been riveted to the screen watching the alumni reaction, the constant news stream of press conferences and now the ensuing law suit around the player abuse scandal at Rutgers.
Many across the country are pointing the fingers, “how can this happen?”
While I am appalled, by the treatment of the players, let’s take a walk down memory lane and reflect on bullying and abuse and the role of passion and aggression in athletics.
Athletics over the years, amateur or not, has been a place of “rock em- sock em robots…” Slogans, like win at all costs, only the strong survive, privilege aggression, and passion and emotion exist in all levels of athletics. Not so long ago, we watched the antics of Bobby Knight terrorizing his players on live television. Didn’t we all marvel when dunking a basketball included shattering the glass of the backboard? Commentators used to discuss how a tackle would “clean their clock” when a particularly hard hit was heard in the stands. Yet on the other hand, do we expect our athletic icons to kiss and make up like Magic and Elijah, like Cowher and Slash (old Pittsburgh Steelers lore here)? The stories of aggression, passion, physical exertion are the norm in athletics; and while abuse is not acceptable in ANY form, in truth, I believe in the world of social media that Rutgers is potentially like several other athletics programs which have passionate and borderline abusive tactics. Just that my Scarlet Knights got their hands caught in the incivility cookie jar.
Look at the recent images from March Madness.
Both young men and women with glaring eyes, bared teeth and clinched fists are striving for a trophy under the gaze of prime time television and billions of dollars of endorsement contracts for their respective schools. Are these images of civility? Or imagines of win at all costs… Images that have been rehearsed, practiced and crafted. Make no mistake; even amateur athletes are coached on how to present themselves in the media as well as on the court.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not some well-crafted argument to excuse the deplorable treatment of athletes. While I have that alumni love, incivility and abuse is intolerable, yet as we point one finger at Rutgers, let’s look at the four pointing back at ourselves. We LIKE aggression in our sports, we EXPECT an emotionally hard game even from an 18-year-old kid, we DEMAND passion in the game as evidenced by the revenue pouring in. We as a society have a hand in this too.
And in the wake, the social development of our young people who might be the targets, and even at times participants in this bullying and incivility. Further casualties included Eric Murdock, who had the courage to stand up to the school and speak out on the behalf of the players. Allegedly his reward for caring for those who were abused was to lose his job. The circumstances allegedly around the termination of Eric Murdock from Rutgers is case and point why workplace legislation should be in place to protect interveners who stand up for those being bullied, much like those who speak out against civil rights are legally engaged in a protected activity.
There is indeed blame to go all the way around, from the history and culture of sports, the insane drive to win at all costs and the culture Americans have cultivated to sustain such aggressive passion for the bright lights of championship sports. Just as we as a society demanded that our young people engage in such emotion, passion and aggression in sports, which requires them to be trained to be emotional, passionate and aggressive, we also as a society can demand protections for those strong enough to report incivility. No one should face abuse at work, play or sports, and certainly no one should lose their job for standing up for the weaker kid.
Read more posts by Leah Hollis, Ed.D.. Leah is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.