By: Rajan Nanavati
In some jurisdictions, the legal definition of assault can simply constitute “unwanted physical contact upon a person.” It doesn’t have to inflict any physical or emotional harm, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the precursor for greater physical harm to come.
So let’s call it like it is: whether you call it an “act of passion” or whether you think he was just trying to “give tough love” to a particular student athlete, what Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher did on Saturday, when grabbing and yanking the face mask of one of his players as a channel for his anger, was committing assault.
The great coaches are supposed to be a combination of a leader of men and an innovator of the game of football. What does Fisher’s example demonstrate to his students? That it’s okay to put their hands on someone when they’re angry?
Of course, the “I played/coached high school football and this is perfectly acceptable” brigade has come out in full force in defense of Fisher, and that’s fine. For better or for worse, social media has given a voice for everyone to express their opinion. But in that same vein, professional football players themselves, including guys who have won Super Bowls and guys who’ve been to multiple Pro Bowls, have all come out in condemnation of Fisher.
That’s because this isn’t the wussification (or the same rhyming word that beings with a “p”) of young men, students, athletes, or football players. This is about head coaches all over the nation knowing that they’re revered by alumni and fans as borderline living deities, and the unchecked power those coaches feel they have as a result — especially over their student athletes.
Over the past two months alone, we’ve seen an exposé on how a head coach, DJ Durkin, and the former strength and conditioning coach failed to realize the ultimately fatal signs of one of their student athletes. Another head coach,Will Muschamp, came to the former’s aid by ignorantly accusing the media of being “gutless” for simply going about the process of doing their job. Another head coach, Larry Fedora, completely disregarded — if not mock — the concerns and risks of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) among football players. Another head coach, Mike Gundy, threatened a media blackout if anyone asked a student athlete even a run-of-the-mill question about why they want to transfer from that particular school.
Hasn’t anything that occurred with the whole maelstrom at Ohio State University taught us anything about what happens when a coach doesn’t know how to properly channel their anger and/or frustration without placing their hands on someone?
The Bud Kilmer mentality doesn’t work anymore, especially in an era when the slightest misstep or miscommunication will be viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media in only hours.
Though football should always be a beautifully brutal game, that’s supposed to be in the context of what takes place between the sidelines. But in terms of the way we teach, mold, lead, and guide those players, people who are being paid millions of dollars every year should be better than this.
There’s just no place for what Fisher did on Saturday, whether in the context of football, or society as a whole.