Under The Microscope

By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Summer 2004
University of Colorado Head Football Coach Gary Barnett is currently under intense scrutiny. Indeed, all coaches are under the media microscope as never before. Here are some suggestions that might prove helpful:
Review of Coach Barnett: Katie Hnida was a walk-on for the Buffs in 1999 but never got into a game. She was also sick during that year and the next. Katie transferred to New Mexico in 2002 and last season became the first woman to score in a Division I-A game as she kicked two extra points in a 72-8 win. A bombshell hit this past February after Katie told Sports Illustrated she had been raped by a Colorado teammate in 2000.
A media horde then swarmed around Coach Barnett demanding answers and a statement. Unfortunately, while being interviewed, Coach Barnett responded to the question of why the players had never accepted Katie by saying that she was “not only a girl, she was terrible, OK?” Coach Barnett also went on to say that no one should be treated as Katie had been treated. But no one seemed to hear any of that. The media singled out the words “girl” and “terrible.” Then the microscope kept focusing, bringing to light allegations of sex parties and at least eight women accusing Colorado players or recruits of sexual assault since 1997. Coach Barnett was placed on administrative leave.
My Suggestions: First, a coach must recognize a crucial situation. This was an obvious one. I believe coaches should practice appropriate responses: “I cannot accurately comment at this time. We need to do a thorough internal investigation. Rape or sexual misconduct of any kind is one of the most egregious offenses that a person can commit. My heart goes out to Katie.” Then, at a later date give a carefully prepared statement that has been scrutinized by an attorney and athletic director.
Second, we do not say “girl.” We say “woman.” Men, especially at the college level, must realize that many college women athletes and coaches find the term “girl” highly offensive and even demeaning.
Third, in public you never say someone is terrible. Never. Coach Barnett was contrite: “It was an insensitive remark that I wish I could take back.” Amazing, is it not? Thirty years ago all that coaches worried about were X’s and O’s, but now you need to watch every word you say.
Fourth, we must acknowledge and appreciate the wonderful differences between men and women. Please refer to the article in this issue.
Fifth, be complimentary in public. For example, Coach Barnett could have said, “We were thrilled for Katie when she kicked those two extra points for New Mexico. She has a lot of courage, but now we have to find out exactly what happened. In the meantime our thoughts and prayers will be with her.”
George Ayoub, a senior writer for The Independent, said this about Coach Barnett: “We need not tiptoe around every word or phrase. But we should always consider the measure of our speech, especially as public figures. When we fail to recognize a coach’s enormous power not only to hurt but also their power to heal, we are incorrect in any venue.”