This past weekend I had the chance to re-connect with an old swimmer. He paid me a nice compliment, one of which is that he really liked some of the public shaming that I’ve done in this space.
As I’ve written and talked about before, I feel somewhat conflicted on this point. I know that shaming is not effective for getting the shamed person to change. In fact it acts as an impediment.
However, I’ve realized over time that these public shamings are not for the shamed. Without fail, when I write something like I did two weeks ago about Dick Shoulberg, the following happens:
I am swiftly condemned, publicly, by colleagues in the coaching world who admire the person I have written about. At best people find the post unfair, at worst it gets extremely personal.
I get the most wonderful messages in private feedback. These come in one of two categories. In the case of Shoulberg, there have been a large number of former GA swimmers, some of them extremely prominent, that have reached out to offer private support. Without having a firm count, I do believe there are enough that I only feel more sure of the original post.
The other form of positive feedback comes from parents of young swimmers. I heard from the mother of a fourteen year old girl. The girl read the post and was able to identify common points between the stories swimmers told about Shoulberg and her own coach. She was able to talk to her mother about it, and get away from the coach.
That folks, is who the shaming posts are for. They are not for the shamed. They are for those they hurt, most of whom are living in silence and isolation. There is a good chance they have never had what they are experiencing affirmed in any shape or form.
Why would they? The public feedback I listed in point #1 sends a very clear message:
“You are exaggerating”
“It’s only you- everybody else loved [coach]”.
That message is destructive and counter to what is almost universally the change we think will make a difference in sport. We want more reporting, and better handling of those reports. But before reporting, those that have been hurt have to be convinced that the structures that they report to actually “get it”.
Next- I’ll discuss one of the reasons I think that many people have such fond recollections of coaches who were terrible to them.