Beckie Francis was fired last month as the coach of the Oakland (Mich.) University women’s basketball team, but it wasn’t because of her win/loss record or NCAA rules violations. As USA Today reported last week, she was terminated because of an astonishing and disturbing reign of terror during which she subjected almost 200 young women to humiliation, intimidation, religious coercion, body shaming, and gross violations of privacy that one former player described as “head games, constant head games.”
“Looking back on it now,” the woman said, “it was just insane.”
What could have been so awful? Aren’t coaches supposed to motivate their athletes, expect excellence and commitment, and push them hard to the point that they might even cry on occasion? Maybe so, but see if these tactics would motivate you and help you improve your game:
- Saying to incoming freshmen players: “We don’t fraternize with the men’s team. By the way, are you guys virgins? You guys are virgins, right?"
- Taking photos of players in their sports bras and Spandex to chart their body changes and obsessed about the players’ weight, benching those she thought were fat and forcing them to diet such that a number of players developed eating disorders.
- Having a “Pray to Play” motto (Oakland is not a religious institution), essentially forcing players to attend her church, showing Christian-based videos on bus trips and otherwise imposing her beliefs on players. As one player said,” If you’re not a devout Christian… that goes to church every week and wants to pray constantly, you’re not going to play.”
As described by former players, the full scope of the mental and emotional abuse and obsessive control inflicted by Francis is pretty astonishing. What made it even worse is that everyone from players to assistant coaches were terrified to say anything or stand up to Francis since her husband was the president of the university. Conveniently, he resigned the same day Francis was fired.
Tragically, we seem to hear with sad regularity stories of adults in positions of power and authority over young people—coaches, priests, politicians, even parents—who use the trust and faith placed in them to inflict pain on the very people they are supposed to protect. When folks like Francis engage in this kind of behavior, it is no doubt rooted in any number of personal issues or demons or imbalances that they are carrying around. The bitter irony of Francis’ case is that before she was terminated, she revealed that she had been sexually abused by her father when she was a kid.
Not to minimize in any way Francis’ childhood suffering and the scars it no doubt caused, but frankly, such trauma isn’t a free pass to destroy the lives of others. We all have issues; we all have things to work through. We’ve all said or done some mean things to people we love that we later regretted because of our own moodiness, problems or just plain stupidity. But being nasty once and a while to your annoying little sister is light years removed from shattering the lives of scores of young women who wanted nothing more than to go to college and play basketball. Both may be terrible, but one is tragic.