By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Ask most coaches how they view their life’s work, and you’ll get an answer like this: “I consider myself a teacher, first and foremost.”
For many, this self image is unquestionably justifiable. There are men and women across the country at high schools and colleges getting meager stipends for the time-consuming responsibility of handling freshman football, JV wrestling or sophomore swimming. They teach trigonometry, AP history or civics, then grab a cup of coffee and a whistle and go to work all over again.
And then there are the multimillionaire demigods. The purported “teachers” on Gulfstream jets, humble “educators” with turreted castles on hilltops, and “professors” golfing with corporate CEOs to cut deals that build outsized facilities and fund all kinds of recruiting.
They love to think of themselves as teachers because it makes them feel better. There’s more honor in that than their actual job description: deciding whether or not to punt, telling people to run sprints and ranting profanely at weary officials.
Some have nominal professorships indeed, opening their practices to lowly students for a “Watch Me Coach” class that offers the opportunity for genuflection and the deep strategy behind the 1-3-1 zone press. Most don’t even bother.
As each infuriating, stomach-turning detail of the Sandusky/Paterno Penn State mess emerges, too many coaches reveal themselves for what they are, and are not.
The weekly Big Ten teleconference after the news broke exposed Paterno’s counterparts as mealy-mouthed cowards – quick to cover for the brotherhood above all else, refusing to take an apparently controversial public position against child rape. Bless Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, however, the unlikely speaker of uncomfortable truth both before and after his team played a painful game at the epicenter of scandal.
“I look at my job as a football coach is to educate, and to prepare the kids that come into the program for life,” he said, arguing that the game should not have been played. “The situation that is going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it, had they called it off. It’s about doing what’s right and wrong.”
Anybody else have a thought? Any other teachers out there among the high-profile coaches?
Coaches love to talk, about everything. The back channels are abuzz right now with chatter about Sandusky – who knew what, and for how long, and what happens now. It would be nice for another coach to use his or her bully pulpit to talk about new openness, about how to talk honestly about dark, scary things, or about the proper place of athletics at large public universities.
Guess who is talking about those things — actual professors and teachers, who cross paths with Coach every day on the quad.
Big-money coaches claim the educational high ground when it’s convenient, but are shying from it when it matters most. They want to be considered leaders of young men and women, but can’t wait to retreat to the more urgent concerns of blocking schemes, kickoff coverages, rebounding drills and pick-and-rolls. The fraternity stays quiet about the serious stuff.
I know that Bo Pelini is not the only one with strong thoughts on what’s important, and what are the right things to do as college sports move forward during this unfathomable horror story that keeps getting worse.
Anybody who wants to be a teacher is welcome to prove it.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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