Manchester City footballer Mario Balotelli and his manager, Roberto Mancini, got into a mild dust-up the other day, which prompted me to think back on the most significant entries in the canon of player-coach violence.
I find it terribly exciting to see violence between players and their coaches in team sports. This isn't because I’m some kind of drooling psychopath who gets off on watching vapid mongoloids pummel each other (if I did, I’d just watch reruns of Jersey Shore). I love player-on-coach skirmishes because they represent the piercing of the thin veil of professionalism that is constantly draped over the world of sports.
Like most multi-billion dollar industries, sports are highly regulated. Athletes, coaches, general managers, and owners are encouraged to refrain from cursing, insulting referees, betting on games, sleeping around, being overly confident, renaming themselves “Ochocinco,” or being otherwise “out of control.” Actual madness of the sort that resulted in Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killing himself and his girlfriend is far less frequent than the media might lead you to believe, but that doesn’t stop professional sports leagues such as the NFL from making a concerted effort to treat their players like hormonal middle-schoolers who will fuck or fight at the slightest opportunity. God help the NBA-employed multimillionaire who breaks the post-game dress code.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Manchester City footballer Mario Balotelli and his manager, Roberto Mancini, get into a mild dust-up on their training ground before their upcoming FA Cup match against Watford. This wouldn’t have merited any coverage by the soccer press if it had been one of the countless incidents of violence that have occurred in the stands over the years. For a time in England, football hooligan stories were as popular as vampire tales are in America right now. Feel free to imagine Robert Pattinson as a bald Arsenal fan curb-stomping a Tottenham supporter in a dark part of North London. You’re welcome.
A brawl between a player and a coach is a different scenario entirely. What happened was, after Balotelli administered an overly aggressive tackle to teammate Scott Sinclair, Mancini was sent into as much of a rage as a diminutive, metrosexual Italian man is capable of going into when angered by another vaguely effeminate Italian. I think he spent most of the time scolding his player over his stupid haircut and warning him of the social faux pas of wearing black shoes with a blue suit. The “fight” wasn’t that physically violent but the fact that it was an unplanned outburst is delightful unto itself.
The bond between player and coach has been broken many times before, and will continue to be broken in the future. Like literature, the player/coach fight world has its classical canon; the works that define the art form. Here are my all-time top three player vs. coach dustups.
Carlesimo's neck, post-Sprewell.
Latrell Sprewell vs. PJ Carlesimo
Like the Mancini/Balotelli incident, this took place during an otherwise innocuous practice session. During the 1997 NBA season, Golden State Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell didn’t appreciate some perhaps unconstructive criticism from coach PJ Carlesimo and choked him for a full 15 seconds before being restrained by his teammates. As a result, he was suspended for 68 games and was released by the Warriors. Sprewell failed to appropriately use the “I thought I saw a mosquito on your neck and was trying to squash it for 15 seconds” defense, which always seems to work for me.
Mike Leach vs. Everyone
College football is an especially creepy institution, since the coaches are generally pasty, fat, unattractive old white men who are giving orders to the young, impressionable, physically gifted black men who play for them. Any actual fights wouldn’t even be close to fair, so the coaches sometimes take the more passive-aggressive route, like former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who lost his job in 2009 after being accused of intimidating and abusing Adam James, a player who had to sit out practice after a concussion. Instead of sending James home, he forced him to stand in the equipment room near the practice field. Leach refused to apologize for his actions and was fired. The cherubic sadist ended up at Washington State and was once again accused of physical and emotional abuse, but the charges were decided to be without merit. What is not without merit is my hypothesis that Leach’s players call him “Dumps,” “Chub Chub,” “Jabba the Leach” and “That Fat Shit” behind his back.
Weighlifting Belt vs. High School Kid
In 2010, a cell-phone video of a high school basketball coach whipping his players with a weightlifting belt in Jackson, Mississippi was released to the public. Sometimes, coaches have to deal with young people acting up, as Mike Leach learned, and have to impose discipline—players need to know if they get themselves a concussion, they’ll get placed in “time out” (aka standing in a hot room alone until they pass out/die). That’s the system, and it’s not changing. Sometimes, solitary confinement is not enough though. Sometimes, you need to be beaten mercilessly in front of your weeping, pre-pubescent friends—that’s just how team sports work. But while coach Marlon Dorsey provided a fine example of coach-on-player violence, in the annals of “hilarious weightlifting belt whipping films,” the video he starred in is nowhere close to the comic genius of Hulk Hogan manically giggling while flogging someone in a wrestling ring:
Actually, an adult physically assaulting a child isn’t funny. That Hulk Hogan video though, wow. That’s good stuff.