Thursday, April 18, 2013

To Sports Leaders, Administrators, Coaches, Parents, Participants and Media:from the NACWAA

Arizona Sidelines felt strongly enough about this open letter to those involved in youth sports from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators that we are copying their letter verbatim in this blog. Please be advised, there is strong content in the letter below and it may not be suitable for younger readers.

Take Responsibility to End the Degradation of Women

April 12, 2013

An Open Letter to Sports Leaders, Administrators, Coaches, Parents, Participants and Media:

Lost in the public outrage surrounding former Rutgers University Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Rice’s appalling mistreatment of student-athletes and the media’s broad coverage of this story is a critical issue that has received almost no attention or discussion: how society at large, particularly in sports, views and characterizes

Rice’s abusive language, recently exposed by the media, is obviously unacceptable, homophobic, belittling, and offensive. As an organization that advocates for and empowers women not only in intercollegiate athletics, but in all fields of work, NACWAA would like to address an important issue that has been missed—
Rice’s harmful use of anti-female slurs. Among the rounds of physical attacks and homophobic slurs, an article references Rice using the c-word, b-word and p-word at student-athletes when they did not perform to his satisfaction. This language is particularly abhorrent when used by someone who is charged with teaching and acting in a position of power and authority to student-athletes during their still formative years. His
words convey to his team that women are second class citizens.

This is not the first time that sexist language has been used to motivate young men in sports at all levels. It also is a reflection of society at a larger level. As Kate Fagan said in a recent espnW article, “the fact remains that the quickest way to cut a man down in sports is to call him a woman… some people might shrug and say this type of gender-bashing is bound to happen in a male-dominated environment. But, of course, we know there's
more to it than that: it's a microcosm of how women are too often disregarded across society.”

As Kim Polese states in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead: “views like these are all too commonplace and part of a pervasive pattern that belittles, demeans and marginalizes women.” As activist, feminist and NFL Hall of Famer Don McPherson has pointed out, our society does not so much focus on “raising boys to be men,” but “raising them not to be women.” Despite the progress that women have made in
society on many levels, misogynistic slurs and attitudes have persisted and become part of American culture, particularly in sport.

Some people may believe that the language surrounding sports culture is unlikely to change. We believe that for every person who makes a sexist remark, there are many more within earshot who have the capacity to stand up and send the message that those words will not be tolerated. In order to change the way people speak, we must change the way they think. And the only way to do that is for individuals to take personal responsibility in keeping this kind of language off the courts, away from the fields, and even out of the stands. Women and men alike must not remain silent as 51 percent of the population is degraded and marginalized.

Please join us in promoting respect for women, especially in sport.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pearls Made of Cotton.....

The dining room at the ‘Italian Restaurant’ (yes, that’s the name!) is empty except for master chef Chris Bianco and his business manager, Seth Sulka. Bianco has three other restaurants  in Phoenix and his empire is growing by the day. Sulka is writing checks but was brought into this blog because of his unique relationship with one of the great coaches Arizona has ever seen.

Former Phoenix Suns Coach Lowell“Cotton” Fitzsimmons.

Bianco leaps into the conversation telling his favorite Cotton story. “It was the ’95 NBA draft and the scouts are all going back and forth on this kid from Boston College and Cotton’s not saying a word. ‘This guy can’t play, small hands, he can’t jump, he can’t do this, he’s undersized, he’s a tweener…’  Finally Cotton who’s been listening the whole time and is just steaming, rocking back and forth says, ‘I’m the coach. You tell me what he CAN do, don’t tell me what he CAN’T do. I’ll put four guys around him that can make him better, just tell me what he CAN do!”

Bianco said that lesson, one of the many Cotton doled out daily, was a big help for him when It came to people. “I try to find things they can do because if I can put them in a place where they can do things, I don’t ever have to worry about things they can’t do.”

Sulka pipes up at this moment remembering the flip side to Cotton’s gem. “If you’re wondering, for example, why the kid you drafted isn’t hitting three pointers, and that’s what you got him to do, you don’t judge him on a task he shouldn’t be doing. Then it becomes your fault.”

Bianco, his gravelly Italian rising in volume said, “That was a really good example of who Cotton was for me: tell me the positive and we can go forward.”

Sulka recalled how Cotton would talk about building a team. “Cotton would say the lesson is at the NBA draft, for example, you can’t fall in love with all these studs because if it didn’t build your team the way you needed it to function, what’s the point? You can’t have 10 Michael Jordan’s. Cotton, even as a coach, was always looking to build the team the right way.” 

The conversation bounced back and forth when Bianco confirmed the most telling gift Cotton had. “He would find the language to communicate as well as anyone I have ever been around. He would remember people’s names and it was never about him. He would make each conversation very personal.”

Sulka echoed Bianco’s sentiment. “He really was special in his recognition of knowing everyone. I think that did have an impact for him as a coach. It made him a great person that everybody loved. He really did talk to the security guards! I was a lowly P.R. intern and he would call me into his office. He didn’t have to choose to mentor me. He always cared!”

Sulka started with the Suns as a ball boy and worked his way up the organizational ranks until he was named the Phoenix Mercury’s General Manager and two years after that, their President. Cotton continued to mentor him throughout his journey.

“Cotton was great at that dynamic of roles on the team.” Sulka remembers. “The equipment manager, trainer, assistant trainer, everyone he treated well and cared about. And all it made you want to do was play and work harder for the guy. They want to work harder for you, they want to show up, and they don’t want to let you down. Being liked and being respected are two different things. People respected Cotton AND liked him; that wasn’t’ from age or position; that was born from his approach toward people.”

Bianco raced off to an appointment and Sulka talked about Cotton’s ability to always see the positive in situations, in people and his love of teaching the game. “He was pretty animated. The whole practice, he was involved, doing something. It was constant feedback. He was teaching the whole practice, the whole two hours. Now you are seeing more of the college philosophy of, ‘I’ve got 9 assistants and they’re all specialized, I’m more of a producer, not a director.’ Cotton had that affiliation with ‘every man” and he engaged everybody, talked to everybody the same way and asked and remembered.  Cotton wasn’t afraid to sweep the floor, or get on the court to show a low post move. That was just Cotton’s approach to coaching.”

Sulka reminisced about how Cotton would teach all the time, that he always had something to offer his teams. As Sulka got into the upper management of running a team, Cotton’s advice became more managerial but no less relevant.

“He would tell me that I need to let my coaches coach.” Sulka recalled. “He said you can fire them but let them coach. He also said though; don’t assume you can’t coach your coaches. He would ask, what resources do you have, or can I spend an afternoon with your coach to help? I think that speaks to the bigger world that coaches need to be going through development too. Just because you are head coach, you need to be going to clinics, studying, reading, continually evolving. We know everyone steals everyone’s drills, but Cotton said it was more than that.”

Sulka talked a bit more about how all of these pearls of wisdom were born from Cotton’s gift of communication but one that stuck with Seth was ‘you’re not doing anyone any justice if you don’t let them know something when you know it.’ “His point really was, when you know, let them know. Don’t let players be in the dark.  He hated the coach getting high fives and praised all season and then at the end of the season hearing the owner say, coach we have to make a change!  When you know, let them know.”

Sulka talked fondly for a while longer about his mentor, a father figure and most of all a friend. Cotton’s advice and wisdom has stayed with Sulka, and so many other people that Cotton touched his entire life and made better coaches of so many.  His last coaching gig was with the Phoenix Suns in 1996 but the tenets of his coaching philosophy are unbreakable, even for coaches in a new era.

Thank you Chris and Seth, and thank you Cotton.