There are a lot of quality coaches walking around who are not coaching scholastic sports. It’s hard to blame them.

On November 12, 2019, a verdict was delivered in a case involving a teen-aged athlete and junior varsity coach from Bound Brook High School in NJ. Here is a quick summary of the case.

A player hit a ball over the left fielder’s head in a baseball game. The third-base coach motioned for the baserunner to slide into third base. The freshman player suffered a devastating leg injury on the slide, which ultimately ended his playing days. The parents of the player felt the timing of the coach’s decision was late and the slide was unnecessary. They filed suit. Seven years later, a jury in a courtroom voted 7-1 that the coach was not liable.

There are no winners in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching reality for the player and his family, and an experience that seems incalculably unfair to the coach. It’s also a by-product, albeit an extreme example, of what scholastic coaches endure when parents are disgruntled — blame the coach and then attack their credibility. If that’s not enough, go after the administration and scrutinize their hiring process.

Here is an excerpt from the story on the case. It references the plaintiff’s father.

He doesn’t lay all the blame at (coach) Suk’s feet. He wants accountability from administrators who gave him the job without, he believes, enough preparation to keep his son safe. What about the next kid? Who will protect him?

“You have people just taking the extra $8,000 who don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Rob Mesar says. “Somebody’s got to be responsible. Nobody is!” —

I recognize the pain and anguish this family has suffered, but we’re talking about a coach telling a player to slide into third base on a close play. If you reference that as not knowing “what they hell they’re doing,” shouldn’t we then also ask why the runner – rounding second base with the play in front of him and the throw coming in from left field – didn’t anticipate sliding on his own? The baserunner shares some responsibility.

We preach accountability like a broken record these days … until it’s personally inconvenient. Then we cast blame, label someone else accountable, and want heads to roll.

Sports are played at maximum levels of effort, and unfortunately, injuries happen. There isn’t always someone at fault. Coaches shouldn’t be vilified and hiring protocols don’t need to be investigated. Accidents happen during competition, and it’s a difficult fact of life when they occur.

I can’t speak for all high school and middle school coaches, but I’m sure most can “take” that estimate of $8,000 and justify payment with substantive time and effort expended on kids. Considering preseason, individual meetings, responding to parent emails, daily practice plans and workouts, collaborating with trainers, watching film, and much, much more. No one is “taking” anything. They’re earning.

*The assistant-level baseball coach at Bound Brook made $4,882 in 2019. The varsity head coach was paid, $6,714.

Had the plaintiff won this lawsuit it would have been shameful. That junior varsity coach, also a middle school teacher in the district, would have been found guilty of telling a baseball player to slide. Even worse, it would have set a dangerous precedent. Instead, maybe it can serve as a wake-up call of how far things have gotten out of hand. This case may be an extreme example, but petitions, meetings with school administrators, and emails to board of education members to remove coaches are not uncommon. It’s the new normal.

We need to reel it in as a sports culture. We owe it to the next generation that is growing up witness to a lot of finger-pointing from adults. If we want to start turning the tables, we should contribute by following these basic rules.

Let the players play. Let the coaches coach. Let the officials officiate. Enjoy the time our kids are playing sports. It’s finite.

There are a lot of quality coaches walking around who aren’t coaching. I don’t blame them. There is even more who are coaching. I applaud them. Without them, the pulse of scholastic sports stops beating.

For greater detail on this case, read He told a kid to Slide. Then he got sued.

As mentioned in my first blog, when an important sports story pops up, we can reshuffle the deck and discuss it. Thank you Mike Hammer and Jason Steinert (Bound Brook ’89) for the nudge on this one.