Wait, did he just say what I think he did? (minute mark 1:18)

I want you to put it in his helmet…I don’t care if you don’t get up. Let’s go!

Or is it:

I want you to put it in his helmet…I don’t care if he don’t get up. Let’s go!

Either is grim. The new show, Esquire’s Friday Night Tykes, is getting quite a bit of attention. I suppose this was exactly the network’s intent but there are very few cells in my body that can stay quiet about this. Reality TV has submerged to profound depths.

Seahawks In Seattle!

We’re pulsing blue and green around here. There are 12s affixed to most every man-made structure in this town and our sense of Seattle-cohesion is undeniably improved. It’s exciting to dream of a Super Bowl win for our Seahawks. We’re ready for the 49ers this weekend (we even have our own Macklemore & Ryan Lewis playing at halftime) and most everyone in the Puget Sound is aware that football is providing a reason for giddiness. Like or hate the NFL, it’s my experience that we’re excited about our team…

First thing first: I know this is a pipe dream but I really wish a Seahawks player or coach would take the lead and discuss the disgust we should all have with Esquire and the crew involved in Friday Night Tykes promoting the abusive coaching. It’s an understatement to say that I’m outraged some think it is not only permissible for children to participate in this program but that we are willing to elevate the scenario and call it entertainment. Perhaps the NFL won’t permit this kind of public advocacy. Any ideas?

Concussions And Bullying; A Few Assumptions

FootballIt is impossible that executives, producers, coaches, parents, and perhaps even the children involved in this show are unaware of new research about early concussions (during childhood), the damaging effects of repeated concussions, and long-term risks for young athletes. You’ve heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy  — deterioration and damage to the brain that causes increasing mental and physical disabilities over time after repeated trauma and I’m also assuming most of us, The Friday Night Tykes production team included, have heard about the NFL’s $765 Million settlement for brain injury/concussion claims (now currently being denied by a federal judge as not enough money). I’m assuming Friday Night Tykes also launched the show just as the final gasp of the 2013-2014 NFL season captures profound public attention.

And while I hold those assumptions confidently, I suspect the show producers and coaches haven’t heard about the pediatrician-authored perspective published on Monday, Bullying Behavior By Athletic Coaches. I would suspect many would be surprised to learn that 3/4 of student athletes report emotional harm or bullying during their young sports’ careers. A third of them identify the bully as their coach. The coach-athlete relationship obviously carries with it an imbalance of power so is primed for bullying–a systematic abuse of power.

75% Child Athletes Report Bullying

More Common Than You Think: A 2011 UK study interviewed 6000 young adults and asked them to reflect on their organized athletic sports. About 3/4 of them reported emotional harm and 1/3 of those pointed to the coach as the bully or instigator. Other reports have found over 40% of student athletes report coach bullying. Bullying Is Bad For Us: Bullying has been shown to increase risk for anxiety, depression, sleep challenges, school performance, and hinder self-esteem. Culture Of Coaching: Some coaches bully. In a thoughtful piece published this week, researcher Dr. Swigonski et al highlighted 4 ways in which coaches keep the bullying culture alive by using “defensive techniques to rationalize and minimize others’ negative perceptions of the behavior.” I suspect you’ll recognize these in coaches you know.

  1. Moral justification: A coach will try to convince others the behavior is normal and time-tested. You’ll hear a coach say, “this is how I learned to tough it out” or “all coaches lose their temper sometimes.” By stating this they try to normalize it amidst a school or group of kids and parents and thus shift expectations.
  2. Backhand apology: This is where a coach uses the excuse that it’s a player’s inferior performance that caused the bullying in the first place. Authors of the study use this example, “I’m really sorry; I got a little carried way, but we really need to work on fundamentals if we are going to win.”
  3. Advantageous comparisons: This is where unacceptable behavior is used as a comparison. Authors highlight examples of a coach saying, “I don’t ever lay a hand on them” as if to imply that it’s only physical bullying that is problematic after emotional bullying or humiliation of an athlete has occurred.
  4. Escalation: The coach raises the stakes on an athlete who may not like the bullying. They’ll suggest a child quit if they “can’t take it or don’t like the way I do things.” Authors clarify that it’s not that bullying gets escalated, just the cost of pushing back (the threat of needing to leave the team).

You have to wonder what we’re working to create here. Knowing that bullying has detrimental effects on self-esteem, school performance, anxiety, depression, and sleep it’s my opinion we must find the right sports and the right coaches for our kids. When you see these behaviors can you intervene, inform school authorities, or even Child Protective Services if you’re not getting anywhere?

What do we really want out of sports for our children?

I’m disgusted by the focus on Friday Night Tykes (most especially by their trailer) and the deranged way we avoid accepting responsibility for the health of our young, hopeful, innocent athletes under age 18. I won’t tune into Esquire but I will be watching the Seahawks. A couple of boys around here have caught blue/green fever.