I'm a little confused. No, I'm a lot confused.
One minute, these high-octane athletes are gladiators, soldiers, or any manner of rugged testaments to perseverance in the face of physical duress incapable of being understood by mere mortals.
The next, they're complaining of hurt feelings and unforgivable (imperceptible) assaults on their egos.
Of course, I'm referring to the ongoing absurdity that's befallen the University of Kansas football program and its rotund head coach, Mark Mangino.
Former players are apparently materializing out of the ether with complaints about Mangino in the wake of senior linebacker Arist Wright's formal complaint against the portly papa bear of the team. According to Wright, Mangino yelled and poked him in the chest during a team walk-through/practice.
Consequently, the University has launched an investigation into the coach's methods.
In the developing game of he-said, he-said, Mangino claims it's nothing more than bitter players coming forward to get their shot at the cameras at an opportune time. The argument is that nobody was saying a peep when the Jayhawks were cruising along as the toast of college football's early season. But once the honeymoon ended and the squad dropped five straight games, those with axes to grind found an audience of sympathetic ears.
In Mangino's world, it amounts to rats jumping off a sinking ship.
For the record, it's tough to respect a molder of young athletes that is as obscenely obese as the Jayhawk head coach. Seriously, how hypocritical does an individual have to be to demand physical excellence from his charges while looking very much like a tethered blimp with a headset?
Really, coach? You think I'm a bum for blowing that deep post? How about you give me one—ONE—sit-up? How about a push-up? How about just describing your toes without the aid of a mirror?
(Note: I have absolutely nothing against the overweight; it's the hypocrisy that bothers me.)
In other words, I have no love for the man. Nevertheless, Mangino's take rings true to me.
All of the players voicing discontent are done with football and most never amounted to much under Mangino—Raymond Brown, Dexton Fields, Marcus Herford, Wright, and some dude who transferred away from Kansas almost immediately. That's not to say these guys were total chumps, just that their careers probably didn't measure (or aren't measuring, in Wright's case) up to their expectations.
And we all know which side usually wins in a battle of "Is This Disappointment My Fault or Someone Else's?"
Coincidentally, the guys reserving comment or defending the coach are (for the most part) the ones who are still playing football and/or tasted more than a sip of glory under Mangino—Russell Brorsen, Todd Reesing, and Tennessee Titan Mike Rivera.
Obviously, though, the attack of unreasonable bias can be made on these three as easily as it can be made against those throwing stones at Mark Mangino. After all, it is no less common for those who've benefited from an association to defend it blindly.
For the tie-breaker, I return to my opening confusion.
Athletes are perceived as modern warriors because of the physical beating we all watch them endure, but also because of the savage world they inhabit for so many months of the year. Anyone who's spent time in a locker room or at a practice knows that otherwise outrageous behavior passes for normalcy—it's even considered necessary at times.
Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse don't mean the same thing in this specialized environment as they do in everyday life. Sports are barbaric in many facets.
Shoot, my HIGH SCHOOL baseball coach used to break clipboards over our heads when we weren't expecting it if we screwed up royally. In retrospect, it was pretty amazing, since he'd never fail to have the element of surprise despite the fact that we should've been on our guards.
My high school basketball coach announced to a van loaded with the entire varsity squad that one of our teammates was the biggest "p****" he'd ever seen in his life.
The kid was 16 years old.
When I was a 15-year-old sophomore on the varsity squad, we traveled into San Francisco to play one of the best teams in the city. I got dunked on by a 6'8" monster who happened to be black.
That coach's response?
I must be scared of black people. No mention that the dude had six inches on me, about 50 pounds, and I was trying to recover for a teammate's blown assignment.
Oh well. If you can't deal with the heat of being singled out on occasion, then play better or get the hell out of the game.
That's not to say it's impossible to cross the boundary of decency in the athletic arena. If Mangino used the non-fatal shooting of a player's sibling or the alcoholism of a player's father insensitively, he should be reprimanded (read: slap on the wrist), because there's got to be a limit somewhere.
Haphazardly using such intimately personal pressure points is probably a good place for said limit.
But poking a college linebacker in the chest? Grabbing another guy by the arm? Yelling and screaming? Embarrassing players in front of the team? Give me a break.
In sports, as in life, sometimes you'll take criticism and sometimes it will be unfairly harsh. Survival depends on the ability to shed it like water off a duck's back.
From the outside, it seems like Mark Mangino is a walking opportunity to learn this invaluable lesson. It's not pleasant and it might not be the best way to teach it, but those who learned the skill seem to have been well-served by it and have moved on in life.
Those who don't seem to be complaining from their couches. Still stuck in the past, patiently waiting for a convenient chance to exact revenge.