When A Coach’s Decision Clashes With Parents’ Values
By Doug Abrams
“[I’m] not allowing myself to be bullied by a vocal minority,” Corbett Middle School football coach Randy Burbach said defiantly last week, adding that he was fighting a “war I want to win.” The coach dug in his heels after parents of some of the Oregon team’s 12-14-year-olds objected to his decision to hold the post-season awards dinner at a nearby Hooters, the restaurant chain that features (as a local television station aptly put it) “chesty waitresses in skimpy outfits.”
Some parents said that their sons would not attend the awards dinner. The school’s athletic director said that when he requested Burbach to move it to “a different venue so that all of the athletes and their families could attend and feel comfortable about the location and enjoy the season,” the first-year volunteer coach was “unyielding and emphatically said no.”
The AD explained that Hooters “objectifies women” and thus “send[s] the wrong message to our young men,” but Burbach responded that the boys themselves requested Hooters when he sought their input. Explaining that his own children had a positive experience at Hooters when they were 12, Burbach added that the restaurant was an “OK venue” for the dinner. The AD announced that the dinner was not an official school function.
Regardless of any accomplishments during the season, Burbach misperceives a coach’s role with other people’s children. When they decline to expose their young sons to “chesty waitresses in skimpy outfits,” parents exercise their prerogative as the primary stewards of their children’s upbringing. The parents may be right or they may be wrong, but the final call is theirs, and not the coach’s. And, contrary to what the coach told the media, parents who objected to Hooters did not “bully” him or wage “war” with him.
When parents enroll their son or daughter in a sports program, they grant the coach a tangential role in the child’s upbringing. Most coaches take this responsibility seriously, often providing leadership and direction that parents themselves cannot readily provide alone. When coaches meet the challenge, players remember for the rest of their lives.
Parents, however, do not cede their primary childrearing role to the coach. Some team decisions rest with the coach, some rest with the parents, and some rest somewhere in the middle. Corbett’s concerned parents did not challenge the coach’s starting lineup or practice agendas, or some other decision relating to strategy or technique. Whether to patronize Hooters with their young boys is a family decision that squarely rests with parents because responsibility for childrearing begins in the home and not in the locker room.
Any middle school coach should know the difference between Hooters’ “chesty waitresses” and a family restaurant with banquet rooms. With any degree of foresight, Burbach should have anticipated that some parents would hold sincere objections to Hooters, and he should have remained sensitive to those objections. It is no answer that the 6th-8th-grade boys made or contributed to the selection. Declining to give children everything they want is the essence of responsible adult leadership.
Burbach says that he used to bring his own 12-year-old children to Hooters for a positive experience, and that is his prerogative as a parent. But it is also every other parent’s prerogative, based on their own values, to decide the appropriateness of Hooters for their own young teenage sons. No family – not even a “vocal minority” – should face the peer pressure and social ostracism that may accompany non-attendance after the players had been together all season. Each family earned the opportunity to attend the dinner at a venue they would find suitable for their children.
By claiming “bullying” and “war,” Burbach demonstrated both recklessness and disrespect. Two weeks ago, I wrote that when adults misuse the term “bullying” in the public school context, they risk trivializing official efforts to combat true bullying and cyberbullying, which victimizes nearly half the nation’s elementary and secondary students before they graduate. The risk is greatest when misuse comes from the lips of a teacher, coach or other school official. Burbach is a volunteer, but he assumes the role of school agent when he coaches the middle school team.
Bullied and cyberbullied students typically face genuine physical and emotional scarring unlike anything a coach might face when parents happen to disagree with him about where to hold an awards dinner. Careless use of the term “bullying” – particularly by a school agent – threatens public support for in-school initiatives that protect vulnerable students from physical and emotional intimidation.
When American troops are fighting in harm’s way, we on the home front should respect their service by reserving the term “war” for the real thing. Burbach is not alone in his loose language because, at one time or another, many of us try to score points with armchair invocations of armed conflict. President Johnson’s 1960s “War on Poverty,” and the more recent sustained “War on Drugs,” for example, demonstrate that even the nation’s leaders frequently speak too loosely. But describing as “war” a coach’s disagreement with parents about a middle school football team’s awards dinner rings hollow while men and women serve in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Supreme Court is right that parents hold primary responsibility for “inculcation of moral standards . . . and elements of good citizenship.”The calculus does not somehow change when parents enroll their son or daughter in a sports program. Parents do not shed their personal values at the locker room door.
[Sources: Oregon Middle School Coach: Hooters a “Fine Venue” for Football Party, http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2013/11/05/Oregon-middle-school-coach-Hooters-a-fine-venue-for-football-party/UPI-92091383691466/ (Nov. 6, 2013); Hooters Picking Up Tab For Fired Corbett Coach, http://www.kgw.com/news/Corbett-football-team-to-hold-party-at-Hooters–230573061.html (Nov. 5, 2013); Hooters Middle School Party Is Still On, Despite Corbett District’s Objections, http://www.oregonlive.com/gresham/index.ssf/2013/11/hooters_middle-school_football.html Nov. 4, 2013); Hooters Party For Middle Schoolers: Corbett Coach Says He’s Been Fired Along With Brother, Son, http://www.oregonlive.com/gresham/index.ssf/2013/11/hooters_party_for_middle_schoo.html]