Because the only form of substantial compensation student-athletes receive is a revocable scholarship, criticizing coaches and administrators has long been a risky avenue.
Historically, few players in college athletics have spoken out about problems within their program, even when those issues include racially insensitive behavior from coaches.
That’s made the recent trend of current and former athletes calling out coaches for prior remarks a significant shift in the NCAA sports dynamic. Players are discovering their voices and, at least in this moment of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, being heard.
On Monday, former Penn State basketball guard Rasir Bolton, now a member of Iowa State, outlined conduct from coach Pat Chambers he said pushed him to transfer from the Nittany Lions. Bolton specifically said Chambers used the word “noose” as a metaphor for the pressure he thought Bolton was feeling. Bolton said Chambers did not apologize even after telling Chambers and school administrators about how the allusion to a symbol rooted in racism made him uncomfortable.
Bolton’s story comes soon after current and former Oklahoma State football players blasted coach Mike Gundy for a range of confirmed and alleged actions, from wearing a T-shirt of an anti-Black Lives Matter media organization to calling former athletes “thugs” and other racially insensitive names. Clemson football players have lodged similar complaints
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Like Gundy a couple of weeks ago, Chambers on Monday apologized for his conduct and pledged to learn from the experience. Whether or not he actually changes remains to be seen, but the fact he released a statement within two hours of Bolton’s comments demonstrates the growing power college athletes are realizing to prompt public acknowledgement of their complaints. When they speak, they are able to cause the administrations to scramble.
Bolton ended his Twitter post about Chambers by assessing the status quo power structure in college sports.
“In most cases it is the coach who is protected, while the player is left to deal with it or leave,” Bolton wrote.
As more players call attention to the misdeeds of coaches — and realize the problem is widespread — that attitude will perhaps begin to shift. Maybe one day it will be the NCAA coach who has to change his ways or exit, like what happens in the pros.