By HCR Staff | August 4, 2020
The “kids” are not alright.
As the season approaches (whatever that may or may not look like), many players have questions and concerns surrounding plans regarding “return to play” conditions and protocols.
Players throughout college football are beginning to openly express a collective disdain of the status quo. They are mobilizing as they realize the “amateur” sport they play generates the revenue necessary to fund other athletic endeavors as well as the rich salaries of athletic administrators. There are entire athletic administration legacies built on the backs of these athletes while they receive an “educational opportunity”.
Take the White family for example. Patriarch Kevin White is the Athletic Director at Duke while his sons, Danny (UCF) and Brian (FAU) have similar Athletic Director roles. Daughter Mariah Chappell waits for her opportunity but for now is an assistant athletic director at SMU. Another son Mike isn’t in administration, but rather the head basketball coach at Florida. That’s a lot of wealth concentrated in one family due to the work of free labor.
The deeply flawed collegiate model created a favorable business model for many years that allowed family members to hire other family members and others they owed favors to. The strains of this model are now showing and the players are now ready to fight for their interests.
It didn’t have to come to this.
The activism is a consequence of how disconnected athletic directors and conference leaders are from these players. They hear the players, but never really listened. They never thought they had to take them seriously. Pre-pandemic, the players had a hard time mobilizing and were easily distracted by shoes and completely worthless name and likeness legislation. (Name and likeness legislation is still that- just legislation- nothing has been codified – as of now it’s still a topic of discussion and has not made its way into the 452 page rule manual. )
So how is a coach to respond?
They are caught in the middle. They have a loyalty to the institution but also to their players.
Coaches may not be able to fix much of the above. After all, they don’t make up the rules regarding compensation nor do they make decisions regarding safety protocols.
Coaches also must stop infantilizing players and be mindful of how they talk to and about the players. Language matters.
Let’s examine the common use of the word ‘kid” to describe athletes.
I used the word at the onset of the article because most readers would know which “kids’ I was referring to. That is problematic.
Using “kids” to describe athletes is a bad habit. It’s one I try to work out of my own vocabulary. It’s said without malice, but it is damaging. It’s cold and impersonal. More importantly it ignores the fact that these young people are actually adults. By calling them “kids” we reduce them to a level beneath coaches and other adults.
It is no coincidence that they are commonly referred to as “kids” and the NLI (National Letter of Intent), the document that binds a player to a school reflects that they are treated as kids even when they are adults. A player over the age of 18, still needs a parent or guardian signature on the NLI. They need a parent signature until they are 21. Don’t believe me? Check it out. (Page 6). A person can legally sign a contract at the age of 18 everywhere but in college athletics.
They aren’t kids. They are young adults just trying to figure things out. They don’t have the life experience that others do and they are going to make mistakes just like we all did and do.
You likely know of players that have been through so much in their lives and were forced to take on adult responsibilities at a young age. Their experiences, perseverance and mental toughness should be applauded and recognized. However, because they are “kids”, they aren’t taken as seriously.
There are some coaches that takes pride in not knowing people’s names. (If it sounds silly, it’s even sillier when you see this belief, practiced.) At the heart of this sentiment is a saying that I shudder when I type it the way I do when I heard it: “Make me learn your name”. It’s a way of saying “I will remember you when you make a play.”
It’s a lame attempt to be humorous. It’s next-level arrogant.
Here’s a well-kept secret: Many coaches, including head coaches don’t know the names of all the players on their roster. This goes for athletic directors as well.
If the program or department is a “family” as many claim, the least that can be done is knowing the name of the “family” members.
It’s not only important to know all of your players’ names, but to pronounce them correctly. It’s important to call them what they want to be called and not what makes things easier for you.
At HCR, we love football. We want to see people in football treated with respect. We want the players to have a positive experience. We want players to be respected.
When asked, many coaches will say they got into the coaching profession to influence and help young people. We believe them. What gets lost along the way is that we don’t acknowledge the humanity of the people playing the games or their sacrifices. Take a look at the respect that boxing announcer Jim Lampley has towards boxers in this clip. When is the last time you heard anyone in football speak this glowingly of players?
In early June, we saw many coaches issue statements about social conditions in the country. A fair number of these coaches vowed to do what they could to combat injustice and issues in their own program. Will they uphold their promises made in these statements? Or will this be lost as we move into the competitive season? We understand that change often is gradual. We think a good place to start is with the language used to discuss players and knowing their names. It’s a simple ask.