Tuesday, February 19, 2013



   In Steinbeck’s East of Eden Adam Trask is in a stupor.  His wife has run off and abandoned their newborn twins.  The good hearted Samuel Hamilton tells Adam he has a medicine that might help him, but the cure might also kill him.

In Samuel’s day farmers were tough and did what they had to do.   It was standard operating procedure, that when a dog ate Strychnine, the only cure was for the farmer to cut off its tail with an axe.  Samuel explains to Lee, the Chinese cook, that the pain of the amputation fights the poison—and Adam needed some severe pain to fight the poison of being abandoned by his wife.

So Samuel lets the cat out of the bag that Adam’s wife went to work in a dingy brothel after abandoning her babies.  Ouch!

Now cutting off a dog's tail to save its life is unspeakable--obscene--unless you love the animal.

In a grown up world, extreme situations call for extreme measures.

It’s melodramatic to compare Coach Montgomery’s one second shove of Allan Crabbe to cutting off a dog’s tail to save its life.  But the principle remains the same.

Sometimes powerful medicine is the only course.

Neither Samuel Hamilton nor Mike Montgomery was abusing anyone.

It may have to do with adrenaline, dopamine, serration, oxycontin—who knows how body chemistry really works, but moods and attitudes can change at the wisp of an ox tail. 
What we do know is that in certain situations sometimes a person has to be “slapped back” to reality.

(And before you send the e-mail regarding domestic abuse, never an excuse for violence etc.  I’m not trying to say that Monty was channeling his inner Boggie, “I never saw a dame yet that didn't understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45.”)

But it’s childish to pretend that reality doesn’t exist—and then to attempt to create some alternate universe which sounds nice in principal, but is not a part of the real world.

How does one stop an hysterical screamer?  Not by calmly reasoning with him.  It requires a slap across the face or a bucket of cold water to change the flow of body chemistry or bodily fluids.

What does one think the phrase “a good kick in the butt” means?

Why do we say “Someone needs some sense knocked into him?”

Ever been jolted back to reality?  How does that happen, exactly?

Who amongst us, when we were young and involved in a passionate affair which led to our dumping of a gal (for her “own good” no doubt), hasn’t been physically, grabbed and shaken as she screams “But don’t you know I love you!”

I dare you to say it didn’t happen the other way around.

Who hasn’t grabbed a kid, spouse or lover, (regardless of sex) and (figuratively) grabbed them by the lapels to try to “shakes some sense” into them? 

What does “It hit me right between the eyes” allude to?

These idioms were born of real life experiences, not theoretical modes of behavior.

This is not about defending physical abuse.  Abuse—physical or verbal--is wrong—pure and simple.  

Yes, there is a big difference between abusing, humiliating, or belittling someone on a regular basis, and “knocking some sense into them,” on the rare, but important occasion.

Anyone who saw the game saw that young Mr. Crabbe was “in a bad space.”  He was hang dog—mopping, whining, and complaining about “bad calls.”  He received a warning from the refs for batting the ball into the stands after missing a free throw.

He was not only “off” his game, he wasn’t “into” the game.

Apparently, he was either not hustling on defense or twice went to the wrong side allowing SC two easy baskets.

Attempts by coaches and teammates to get him focused failed.

Finally, Montgomery could take no more and he (in the heat of battle) threw a bucket of cold water in Crabbe’s face by jolting him back to reality with his hands.

He didn’t hurt him.  He didn’t abuse him.  He didn’t assault him. 

Yes, he touched him.  But Crabbe was in no danger and felt no physical pain.

In fact, as Crabbe is much bigger, stronger, and tougher than his coach, Montgomery put himself at risk by touching the youngster who might have instinctively reacted by punching Montgomery in the snoot.

Montgomery was simply throwing cold water in his face to wake him out of his stupor. 

Like the iodine in an open cut, often if it doesn’t hurt it isn’t working. 
Now if Montgomery had a history like Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes of physically or mentally abusing players that would be one thing.  But he doesn’t.  

On the fields of Eton, occasional kicks in the pants are necessary to motivate young boys.  It is simply human nature.  There are moments when all the calm reasoning and soft quiet “Montessori voice” teaching simply won’t work.   Occasionally, someone simply has to knock some sense (however it is done) into a youngster.

It’s all a matter of degree.

Someone said we wouldn’t allow a physics professor to do that to a student.  We wouldn’t?

I would.  If my kid were a genius who wasn’t living up to his potential and a physics professor finally grabbed him by the shirt and said, “Wake up!  You have talent!  You are wasting a precious gift by texting in class when you should be applying yourself,”  I’d like it.  And I bet it would work.

I also bet that on occasion it has happened.

Montgomery didn’t cut off Crabbe’s tail with an axe.  He jolted him into reality with a tempered shove.
It worked.  It was rare.

Teaching young men and women is hard enough.  We should never condone bullying or abuse of any kind.  But a swift kick in the tail, when necessary, is an important tool for learning.

We shouldn’t ask either our professors or our coaches to take on the job of helping kids to realize their full potential with a half full tool box.  

Not everyone is willing to cut off a dog’s tail to save it’s life.  But as a dog lover, I’d want that person house sitting my pet—and coaching my kid as well.




Anonymous said...

This wasn't the first time. He shoved Justin Cobbs a few home games back. No one even said anything. We were shocked. Then he jawboned Solomon for quite a while before that. I respectfully disagree. It is inappropriate and a line needs to be drawn.

southseasbear said...

Completely agree, as usual Jeff. Critics are getting carried away. A tap is not a shove; a shove is not a slap; a slap is not a punch. Life is not made up of easily drawn lines of black and white, but of varying degrees. Montgomery's actions were not abuse.

R90 said...

Well stated, Mr. Warren.

There was no abuse with the Cobbs, Solomon or Crabbe incidents. Getting in their faces and making firm contact is undoubtedly communicating messages about intensity that are making better players of them. All three have very low key personalities that will not take them far at the next level if they aren't pushed out of their comfort zone by their college coaches.

Society right now is rightlfully very sensitive about abuse because far too much of it exists. We are wrestling with concepts and standards to try and prevent abuse, but taking those concepts too far in relating them to sport. What's acceptable and even necessary in pushing athletes to achieve their potential is often very wrong outside sport and in domestic relationships. We do need to help athletes understand those distinctions as some end up being exposed as abusers themselves.

The idea that a coach or teacher can't "lay a hand" on a player or student is becoming the political standard, but it's absurd and should be ridiculed for being absurd. There is a wide range of physical contact that is not in any way abusive and is a part of the way even casual acquaintances communicate and interact. It is important for the authority figure to error on the side of caution, however.

The relationship of any two specific individuals is key toward understanding what type of contact is appropriate. The relationship between Crabbe and Monty probably dictates that the shove shouldn't happen again but that it served a beneficial purpose in snapping Crabbe out of a self-defeating funk that was not only costing Cal the game, but limiting Crabbe's future success as a professional basketball player.

Tom Hornaday said...

Mike Montgomery is a fine coach and committed educator who is deeply concerned about the young men who play for him. He promotes both their athletic achievement and their success in the classroom. I have personally corresponded with him him about the deplorable graduation success rate of the Cal basketball and football players. He made no excuses. He is striving to help his players make significant improvements on the basketball court and in the classroom. Life is not easy. Each of us needs to show up and do our best every day. That includes Alan Crabbe. It will be a lifelong benefit for him to learn that now. Tom Hornaday '63

Jack Hubbard 62, 66 said...

I couldn't agree more. As u might notice I (as John Hubbard) have had some words for the PC press idiots (Contra Costa Times - I won't waste my time w the fishwrap from the West Bay). None of them couldn carry Mikes athletic supporter. Why do so many ignorant people go into journalism I wonder.

Anonymous said...

Southseasbear: Life is not made up of black and white rules, so it's nice when we're provided with one, like: College coaches don't put their hands on athletes in anger. Period. Monty knows it, now you do too.

GM said...

It's funny how players do the same thing to each other and it's accepted. I know it was a little aggressive and by looking at Crabbe's face he didn't like it much. To be honest, the backlash of not only the Monty critics but from the press is getting tiresome. In today's SF Chron there are 4 articles on the topic! What I find extremely annoying is that there is no discussion about the Pac12 basically turning a blind eye to the Tony Woods intentional elbow to Motum's head (OK he got ejected but I am pretty sure he will do it again), the Josh Scott vs Jordan Bachynski incident in the ASU-Colorado game, and the continued attack on players by Britney Griner (Baylor) and why she wasn't ejected from the Baylor - UCONN game. To me, those were more dangerous and egregious than "the shove". I'm not saying what Monty did was acceptable, but if the press want to highlight aggressive behavior in college sports, there are more important incidents to highlight in my opinion.

Hope the Bears take two in Oregon, and out post players should probably borrow helmets from the football team in case of "incidental contact".

Jeff Warren said...

How often does one have to (or even hear about) a farmer cutting off a dog's tail to save the dog from strychnine poisoning? That was the entire point of the article.
It doesn't happen everyday, but when there is a life threatening emergency, it's nice to have it in one's tool box, and we should never take that tool out of the hand of any coach or teacher.
This demonstrates what a poor writer I am. I'm amazed how pointing out the necessity of emergency measures, becomes condoning "abuse" by coaches to athletes. Tough love was needed at this point and tough love was delivered. No apologies necessary.

Samuel Fox said...

Great observation Jeff. The PC crowd blew this out of proportion. Even Sandy Barbour took the bait. Enough is enough.

Unknown said...

Let's face it. Since football season is over there is hardly anything worth writing about. This was perfect fodder for the sportswriters who are obviously bored stiff and need to grab onto something, anything. Even sport's talk radio went overboard with the PC position. Walk away and find something worth dwelling on.

Jeff Warren said...

You are right about everyone going overboard because there is nothing else to talk about. However, some of us can't just "walk away" because the incident is so symptomatic of much of what is going on in this country today. No doubt we won't stop the downward trend, but at least we can see we noticed it and spoke up about it. Also, maybe Monty needs to know that there are some in this world that still "get it."

George said...

The media could make a feather int an apricot, or even a Kardashian into a person, but Jeff is taking way too much carefully written trouble to state the obvious--the coach not only did nothing wrong, but he did the correct thing to correct his player's behavior--and then gets sucked into accepting blame for it!!! Stupid. Look at what you looked at--Crabbe's teammate grabbing him by his shirt, Crabbe looking guilty, not the coach, then the proof the coach was right--the player becoming a player. Enough PC shit. Look, think, don't be just told. George Green

Jeff Warren said...

Great point about Solomon grabbing young Crabbe's shirt. How come no one called him out for inappropriate behavior? Zero tolerance is zero tolerance. Is the "excuse" that Monty was in a position of authority? He may be in a superior position of "defined" authority, but he is in a much INFERIOR position in regards to physical prowess.

John Cullom said...

Two points Jeff,
Coaches have to teach, discipline motivate and mentor their players. I would guess this is universal in all sports and even with teachers in the class room. It was clear that Coach Montgomery was trying to motivate his player. Some players are motivated by a pat on the back and some by a finger in the face. As you point out, sometimes a splash of water or a push to the chest is called for.
Point 2 is directed to "anonymous" - If you truly believe what you write, "post up" and put your name on it!
It was reported then removed from the Cal website just after the game, in Monty's post game remarks "It worked didn't it". Clearly Samdy Barbour got to him after that and the damaging "damage control" began!
Go Bears,
John "Trailer" Cullom

John Cullom said...

Post Script.
Furthermore, in this politically correct world, a cup (or bucket) of water in the face today might be considered water boarding, which of course we know is subject for another column another day :)
Go Bears!

Jeff Warren said...

John (U-Haul),

You are descended from one of the greatest motivators of all time--certainly in Cal history. I think we know where Truck comes down on this one.