At the University of Maryland, the sky is falling. In the last week, they have released a report that to any fair-minded person revealed a toxic culture within their football program. Then, bafflingly, they reinstated the leader of that culture.
When public outcry overwhelmed them, they reversed course and fired the coach. The chancellor of Maryland is on his way out, the Chair of the Board of Regents is gone.
Maryland is the story of the moment, but this is not a Maryland problem. Nor was it a Michigan State problem when that was all anyone could talk about. Or a Penn State problem. Or even a football problem.
This is a sports problem. While some of the symptoms in football may be a little unrecognizable in swimming, many of the causes are all too familiar.
We have a sports culture that incentivizes results more and more every year, even though we know how toxic the pursuit of results is. Coaches talk about process, but please remind me the last time a coach got a big time Division 1 coaching job because everyone loved their process so damn much?
So we’re left with results. Coaches who can get results are prized above all else. From good results we extrapolate that the process must be good. Not only good, but morally upstanding and ethical. We tell fairy tales about these molders of young adults.
The coaches that get results become gods among men. As long as their results are good, basically anything else goes. Look no further than the Halls of Fame in swimming, and you can find plenty of coaches whose terrible process wrought unspeakable consequences for those in their charge. But they got RESULTS, so they were a GREAT COACH.
Now, it may seem that I am advocating for complete overhaul of the way we do sports. That’s because I am. Look no further than scandal plagued gymnastics. How much more evidence do we need that the truly exceptional people getting results are (primarily) the athletes and not the any of the “adults” who have inserted and enriched themselves into the process.
Despite their completely inept leadership, despite the supposed “great” coaches who abused and misused and failed miserably to ensure even a basic level of decency, these athletes persevere and produce amazing performances.
Many coaches are probably reading this and thinking “I am far from a ‘god’ in my program, i’m barely treated as a human being”. To that I say, please join in changing this culture. Stop worshipping a select few- your worship enables terrible things to happen.
Speak out against the latitude given in the name of “results”. Live your values. Demand better treatment, not only for yourself but for the young people in your charge. It’s too important not to.