Bullying athletic coaches

Boston University women’s basketball coach Kelly Greenberg faces multiple accusations of severe emotional abuse directed toward some of her players, raising once again the specter of bullying behaviors associated with big-time sports. As reported by Bob Hohler for the Boston Globe:

One basketball player at Boston University said she felt so emotionally damaged by her coach she considered suicide.

Another player said the coach, Kelly Greenberg, treated her so poorly she sought mental health care. And two other players said Greenberg’s emotional abuse ruined their love of the sport.

All four women walked away from the BU women’s basketball team this academic year, an exodus that has renewed questions about Greenberg’s treatment of her student-athletes — and her future at the school.

Although B.U. is launching an inquiry into Greenberg’s overall performance, including the bullying allegations, this apparently is not the first time that numerous players have complained about her alleged mistreatment of them. As further reported by Hohler:

Greenberg faced similar complaints seven years ago, when most of her players reported to BU’s athletic director that Greenberg routinely engaged in unwarranted and damaging personal attacks against them.

Bigger problem

Bullying coaches are nothing new. Famed Indiana University basketball Bobby Knight served as a poster case for such behaviors and eventually lost his job due to his excesses. Knight also happened to be very successful, a claim that not all out-of-control coaches can make.

The allegations directed at Greenberg echo those brought against now former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice. I wrote about the situation last year in piece titled, “Ethical failure at Rutgers: Abusive coach, bad management, questionable lawyering“:

Last week, Rutgers University men’s head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after videotape of his ongoing verbal and physical abuse toward his players went viral. The video is a compilation of Rice at practice sessions, repeatedly yelling at his players (including loud profanities and homophobic slurs), aggressively grabbing and pushing them, and firing basketballs at them.

Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti reportedly knew of the behaviors as early as last summer.  He saw the videotape late last fall, and — after obtaining legal advice and consulting with Rutgers president Robert Barchi — gave Rice a slap on the wrist by suspending him for three games and imposing a fine.

More recently, Jan Hoffman blogged about bullying coaches for the New York Times:

“Most coaches treat their athletes with respect, but bullying is clearly a problem,” said Dr. Kody Moffatt, a pediatrician in Omaha who is on the executive committee of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But it happens more at the elite levels of the game.”

Beyond the “elite”

I might question Dr. Moffatt’s assertion that bullying coaches are found more often in elite athletic circles, though concededly I’m doing so based on personal observations of many years ago.

When I was in high school, we had some coaches who were clearly out of control. One was a Bobby Knight wannabe who threw chairs around when things weren’t going his way. Another was a hotheaded screamer who happened to be a racist to boot. Both of these guys sapped the love of sports from some of the young kids who were on their teams. However, the deference accorded to them at the time meant that they could get away with it. (Both also happened to be lousy coaches.)

Team sports can be excellent character builders, and sometimes players’ actual experiences bear this out. But I also believe there are way, way too many athletic coaches at all levels who get carried away with their roles and are unable to control their volcanic tempers. Those who cannot be supportive, well-behaved adults should not be allowed to coach young people.


Update (4/23/14) — Greenberg has left the team following an internal investigation by Boston University. As reported by Bob Hohler for the Boston Globe:

Boston University has parted ways with women’s basketball coach Kelly Greenberg after four scholarship players said they quit the team last season because Greenberg emotionally abused them.

. . . Todd Klipp, senior counsel at the university, was quoted by BU Today as saying that many of the complaints could not be substantiated, but that “a compelling case was made, based on interviews with the team as a whole, that the manner in which Coach Greenberg interacted with many of her players was incompatible with the expectations and standards for university employees, including our coaches.”


4 responses

  1. Although these examples are about coaches in team sports, I think it’s important to remember that there are bullying coaches in individual sports as well. In my sport (figure skating), while I have thankfully never witnessed or experienced it personally, I know that there are bullying coaches. Sadly, some of those coaches have reputations as coaches that get “results” – so some parents, even knowing of the stories about the coach’s behaviour, still let their children take lessons with that coach. And the children end up very damaged and hating the sport.

  2. I would expect that ineffective coaches are more likely to resort to bullying tactics, if for no other reason than that they lack alternate approaches. A skilled individual recognizes that sometimes the best approach is individualized, and therefore needs a variety of possibilities to choose from.

  3. Thank you David for the enlightening piece on Coaches who Bully. We are in the process of a grievance with a coach at a prestigious Connecticut university, that at this point, are trying to quickly sweep it under the rug. We are looking into state and federal guidelines to hopefully help us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: