You're Allowed To Like Who You Like

Last week, two well known names in swimming got arrested. One was Linck Bergen, and despite my own interest in that name, I’m going to follow Irv Muchnick’s lead on that one.

In the case of (former) Indiana Associate Head Coach Mike Westphal, I found out his fate after one of my coaching friends jokingly texted me that he would “squash” me. Confused, I ended up getting him on the phone.

Now I have a few rules in life. Here are several in no particular order:

  1. Don’t be a hypocrite

  2. Don’t read SwimSwam comments

  3. Drive yourself crazy reading SwimSwam comments.

With regards to a coach like Westphal, who’s purportedly been Ray Looze’s bag man (as if he needed one) during the most recent rise of Indiana swimming, I got exactly what I expected out of the comments section.

Westphal has his defenders, it appears. You may be surprised by what I think about that- it’s fine. Having just attended to a conference with some people that like Mark Schubert, I say to each their own. Personally, I would constantly worry about snagging myself on one of his horns, but that’s me.

I have maintained friendships with people who admire Dick Shoulberg, despite my publishing of multiple allegations of abusive behavior over decades at Germantown Academy.

If Mike Westphal is your guy, I say go for it. I believe in redemption, I believe everyone makes mistakes. But, as probably many of Westphal’s defenders also believe, there should be consequences for misbehavior. Accountability is paramount!

So like who you like, but consider what behavior you think is appropriate and what behavior you do not like. Work hard on separating the two. I can honestly say I have coached people who have pushed way past any reasonable standard for behavior (relax, I’m talking about practice attendance/punctuality) that I have genuinely really liked. I also realized at the same time that they do not belong on the team I’m coaching.

You can do both. Comment sections often drag into accusations and then defense, but at the core of it is something more emotional. People who like Mike Westphal feel under duress, as if somehow they are being asked to disavow Westphal the person.

On the other side, people who have been on the other end of Westphal’s “squash”ing tactics have probably not been given an appropriate hearing of their concerns. They’re allowed to be angry about that too. They’re allowed to not like that.

Our common ground should be this: the abuse of power that led to Westphal’s arrest is unacceptable behavior for a coach. It’s wrong and deserves consequences, just as any reasonable coach would do if it was one of their swimmers, or any parent would do if it was one of their kids.

Next up: a discussion of the generational reason we need an actual system for adjudicating coach misconduct.