In just the last few weeks, we've seen the USA Gymnastics former team doctor sentenced to more than 100 years for repeated sexual abuse.
Various other coaches have been accused of yelling at student-athletes and verbally abusing them, only to be let go, and then hired by a different team.
University of Denver Professor of Sport Coaching, Brian Gearity says the fact that recent scandals within athletics and coaching are coming to light is actually progress.
“What we’re seeing today is finally, and hopefully consistently, a change for more ethical, and professional standards,” says Gearity. Some may say kids are too sensitive or need to toughen up, but Gearity says, that’s not actually the case, instead, these kids and student-athletes may have spent years putting up with the abuse.
“Athletes and a lot of collegiate and professional athletes, and we have the Olympians now who are kind of the epitome of toughness, they really have endured for so long, and often times what they’re enduring is ineffective and unethical coaching practices. When you stop and think about the sexual assault allegations in gymnastics now, verbal and emotional assault of athletes, that in order to even stay in that sport, maintain their scholarship, compete professionally, they have to endure those things, because there’s no other option. The only other option is - we call them quitters and in reality they’re not really quitters, they leave, they’re voluntarily leaving the sport to find other opportunities.”
Gearity says social media has helped bring more abuse cases to be talked about. He says it also has to do with what he calls athlete activism.
“I think what we’re seeing today is people are kind of challenging that (unacceptable behavior) more – saying you know what, people are saying and doing these things and they’re not right. We have more social media and you have more examples of athletes like Lebron James and other athletes, the take the knee movement in the NFL. Athlete activism is probably on the rise…As the money continues to grow in college sports, athletes are going to start to ask more questions and then universities will become more liable and negligent in employing these coaches, administrators and team doctors and they’re going to continue to face lawsuits.”
Gearity says there should be a focus on creating the best environment, which means still having high expectations, but using supportive behaviors to communicate those expectations.
This involves coaches learning and developing coping skills and emotional skills to regulate their own behavior, so they don’t take out their anger through physical, verbal, or mental abuse.
Gearity says we’ll keep seeing scandals like the one we’re seeing at CSU right now, within the men’s basketball program, unless the culture of coaching changes.
“Somebody needs to stop and go and regulate coaching education and license coaches. They should have to get professional development and if they cross the line and a complaint is filed, let’s suspend their license and then they can’t coach anymore and they can go find something else to do,” says Gearity.
He says when you look at the accountability structures and the checks and balances from the President of the board, the athletic director, and other people at the top, it’s hard to speak up.
For a young coach, or someone who sees these things happening it can be intimidating to say anything because they aren’t making six figures, and if they lose their job it can be catastrophic. It can also affect the rest of their career.
“Until the board of trustees and the athletic directors abide by the best practice standards, and practices, we’re going to continue to see this thing, unfortunately I think it’s going to take too again massive lawsuits to change things, or some type of legislation to change the coaches before the job and have a mediation plan.”
Gearity says he thinks the only thing that may change this entire sports culture we’re living in, are large, costly lawsuits.