Why Concussion Inc. Will Publish a Guest Essay Tomorrow by Mitch Lyons, Founder of the End Abusive Coaching Campaign

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Guest Essay by Mitch Lyons, Founder of Campaign to End Abusive Coaching: ‘Public School Athletics Are Negligent and Neglected’
April 2, 2024

by Irvin Muchnick


Tomorrow we’ll have a piece by a Massachusetts-based youth sports activist, Mitch Lyons, about his campaign to “end abusive coaching.” As a rule, I don’t cross-promote with others’ pet projects. This one, however, seemed uniquely congruent with my own critique of the feeder levels of the American sports system.

Mitch had approached me after reading my recent Chicago Tribune op-ed piece, pegged to the reform recommendations of the congressional Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics. (In the next few days we’ll be reprinting the full text of that article, as well as related ones at Salon and Beyond Chron.) Even though the categories of abuse targeted by his organization are not sexual abuse, the philosophical connection is clear.

For a decade-plus, my reporting has centered on two outrages of youth sports. They skew by gender but share the key aspect of unexamined public subsidies of professionalized sports – with equally unexamined public health consequences.

In football, boys in the hundreds of thousands annually get brained and suffer lifelong orthopedic and neurological deficits; a couple even die without making or being on the receiving end of a single block or tackle. I wrote all about this in my book Without Helmets or Shoulder Pads: The American Way of Death in Football Conditioning, published last year.

In numerous Olympic sports, underage girls especially are at unacceptable risk of sexual abuse by all-powerful coaches, in part because the entire infrastructure of these sports has been built with the goal of maxing out on the national teams’ quadrennial medal haul at the Olympics. That is the subject of my upcoming book.

From time to time, I’m asked to weigh in on the general debate, and the time-management and disciplinary tugs of war, between some types of parents and some types of coaches. Generally, I demur. I only want to lay out the evidence that parents who make an often unconscious decision to outsource their parenting are making a mistake. Professional sports is huge in our culture and it offers opportunities that can’t be scoffed at, especially for marginal groups that are more closed off from other opportunities. What I mostly want is more intentionality: separating those driven to pursue the professional sports path from those pursuing physical education or life-skills objectives.

I emphatically distinguish my interest in the End Abusive Coaching campaign from commercial nonprofits that tap into the coaching issue with what I consider an anodyne, even pollyannaish, agenda. Yes, I do refer here to a group called the Positive Coaching Alliance, which eagerly forges relationships with professional leagues and whose prescription, so far as I can tell, is that coaches should be taught not to yell so much.

A gentleman named Jim Thompson founded PSA at Stanford University in 1998. I had dealings with him during the six-year history of something out of Santa Clara University, an annual “sports law and ethics symposium,” which I came to conclude was a bunch of dross and drivel. Neither PSA nor the symposium ever engaged meaningfully with the deeply disturbing phenomenon of youth coach sexual abuse (though they made the standard corporate gestures toward articulating that child abuse was a bad thing and that education and consciousness-raising programs around it were a good thing). At no point did they focus on the unique dynamics that allow specific and widespread scenarios of coach-on-kid predation to flourish.

Readers interested in some of this background can go to my coverage of the Santa Clara symposia, which got increasingly acerbic, culminating in:

“Jock-Sniffing Inc.: 49ers Blitz Credibility of Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium,” June 23, 2015, https://concussioninc.net/?p=10148

“Arrivederci, Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium,” September 20, 2016, https://concussioninc.net/?p=11428

With that, I invite you back tomorrow to read the compelling essay by EndAbusiveCoaching.org’s Mitch Lyons, “Public School Athletics Are Negligent and Neglected.”

Irvin Muchnick’s book UNDERWATER: The Greed-Soaked Tale of Sexual Abuse in USA Swimming and Around the Globe will be published later this year by ECW Press.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick