Commentary

Do coaches' rules impede maturation?

Updated: October 6, 2010, 4:00 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

If you've ever been to Europe, you know Europeans have a completely different approach to alcohol consumption than we do.

[+] EnlargeTurner Gill
Tim Umphrey/Getty ImagesTurner Gill has received as much attention for his rules as for his record at Kansas.

Let's just say their approach is more open. I once attended a World League football game in Dusseldorf, Germany. There were no tailgating restrictions. Alcohol was sold the entire game. Beer was cheaper than Coke.

Having visited several foreign countries over the years, my perception is that, when it comes to alcohol, the thinking in other parts of the world is that if it's not treated fearfully around youth, perhaps it will be handled more responsibly as those people mature.

I'm relating these observations to the sports world in light of Kansas football coach Turner Gill's public defense of a team rule that prohibits players from being in the presence of a woman after 10 p.m. It could be their girlfriend, a classmate or someone delivering a pizza. It could be in public or in private.

The circumstances don't matter. No women.

Gill admitted this isn't the easiest rule to enforce, but he believes it sends a strong message.

"We're just teaching them discipline," Gill said Monday during the Big 12 coaches' teleconference. "I'm not going to go into all the details of what we have on our team policies and all those things, but everything that we do is all about disciplining our guys and preparing them for life with football and preparing for them for life without football. It's just part of our makeup."

Football coaches hate distractions and love absolute control. Not only does Kansas have the no-women-after-10 policy but Gill and his coaching staff also collect each player's cell phone 24 hours before a game, and they don't return them until after the game ends.

Gill is hardly alone among coaches. After Miami's 36-24 loss to Ohio State, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon banned his players from using Twitter that week -- as if it were the complexity of Twitter's 140-character limit that caused quarterback Jacory Harris to throw four interceptions. Some coaches have banned Twitter altogether, including Boise State's Chris Peterson and New Mexico State's DeWayne Walker.

[+] EnlargeHalle Berry
AP Photo/Peter KramerIs Halle Berry a distraction? Is there a better way to teach young men how to behave than banning contact with women after 10 p.m.?

I get why coaches feel compelled to exert more control. They are paid a lot of money to oversee these programs, and when an athlete gets into trouble, they're the ones who are blamed.

I'm just not convinced that stifling players' freedoms to this degree accomplishes anything -- other than making it tougher for Gill to recruit now that prospective players know what they're in for should they commit to Kansas.

I'll give Gill the cell phone rule. But although I applaud him for taking such a deliberate interest in ensuring his players are staying focused and being responsible, the no women after 10 p.m. restriction is disconcerting and archaic.

One of the biggest mistakes college coaches make -- particularly those who oversee the revenue sports such as football and basketball -- is keeping their players segregated from the normal college experience.

At most schools, college football players eat at their own training table instead of in student cafeterias. Some live in dorms that house only football players. They are sometimes funneled toward certain majors. Many are discouraged from joining organizations or being involved in their communities because it might cause them to think about something other than football.

The result is a college experience that doesn't broaden their view but narrows it. If Kansas players aren't allowed to interact with women after a certain time, how does that actually improve the way they view and treat women? How does it help them make the appropriate decision when they encounter a difficult situation? How does this help them become well-rounded individuals?

If Gill or any other football coaches wanted to keep their players from getting into trouble with women, it would seem far more beneficial to have a counselor speak to them about date rape. Or have them interact with and perform charity work for women who have been physically and emotionally abused. That might prevent someone such as Florida's Chris Rainey from sending a woman a threatening text message. There might be fewer situations such as the one involving Baylor basketball guard LaceDarius Dunn, who was suspended indefinitely after he surrendered to police to face an aggravated assault charge that accuses him of breaking his girlfriend's jaw during an argument last week.

There's a fine line between instilling responsibility and crippling your players' ability to make the correct decisions.

One of the reasons we see so many athletes in trouble is because they aren't used to thinking for themselves. They are accustomed to following rules that -- even if they are well-intentioned -- only reinforce the idea that they should be treated differently.

I'm not advocating that Gill or any other coach run a loose program, but telling players they can't lay eyes on any woman after a certain time seems like a sure-fire way to create an atmosphere of rebellion. Not to mention the fact that Gill is feeding an old-school stereotype that women somehow threaten male athletic performance.

Besides, Baylor beat Kansas 55-7 this past weekend, bringing the Jayhawks to 2-3 this season. Something tells me that even if the Kansas players had seen Halle Berry at 10:01 p.m., this season wouldn't have gone all that much differently.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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