Miracle and Taylor Branch

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USA winning the 1980 gold medal

On November 13, I went to the showing of the movie Miracle on North Quad. This movie documents the 1980 United States men’s hockey team, winners of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The coach at this time, Herb Brooks, is attributed to a lot of the success of this team by inspiring both physical and mental strength in his players. This movie is a great example of the intense lives of athletes. It demonstrates inspiration, hard work, teamwork, mental toughness and it will inspire all who watch it.

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team. 

Viewers are inspired by the US team because they all came from different places and had been previous rivals with each other. They had to learn to put aside their differences in order to become teammates and play well together. In the movie, there is a well-known scene after a game in which the team lost. Coach Brooks punishes the players for not playing up to their potential by forcing them to skate hours into the night. The players could barely stand up and the coach’s assistants were telling him to stop but Coach Brooks did not let them give up. Brooks was pushing his team to their limits. He knew they needed to be pushed to see what it takes to be a champion. He kept asking the players who they played for, over and over. Finally, one player came forward “I play for the United States of America!” and Coach finally ended the drill. He wanted to get across to the team that they are all playing for a common goal and that there is a necessary mental toughness for this game. Coach Brooks stated from the beginning that he wasn’t there to be anyone’s friend but instead to coach a championship team.

I play for the women’s lacrosse team here at the University of Michigan and our coach constantly reminds us that we are playing for the Block M on our chest. We have to earn the right to wear it because it is such a privilege. When we first stepped onto campus we were given a plain white t-shirt and blue shorts with no Michigan or Block M anywhere on them. We had to earn the right to play for Michigan each day through our workouts. Every day we pushed each other to be better. The team becomes your second family. That is what Coach Brooks of the USA Hockey Team did as he made them to skate for hours. I can relate to this feeling because our conditioning sessions feel impossible but afterwards we know we accomplished so much. In order to become champions, you must push yourself to your limits with your team at your side, giving you great motivation, just like the USA Hockey team. If you do not push yourself to your limits, you won’t get better or see results.

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

On November 14, I was fortunate enough to go to Taylor Branch’s talk about athletes and how the NCAA affects them. Taylor Branch is a huge advocate for the rights of student athletes everywhere. He is an author and a speaker, and has spoken to many audiences and has written and co-written many books. He has written many pieces on sports, particularly the effect of the NCAA and the life of athletes. Right now, he best known for his pieceThe Shame of College Sports” published in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic. This article talks about the NCAA and their strict rules and regulations it has on student athletes and universities. This article was interesting for me because he argues that all the scandals in the media surrounding college athletes cheating are not what we should be focused on. Instead, “the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves”. He compares overworked employees in the workplace to overworked collegiate athletes, saying it is unjust for one to be paid and not the other. It is interesting how in the workplace it is exploitation for an employee to not be paid for the success and hard work they’ve done. However, for a student athlete it is exploitation if they are paid or compensated in any way for the long hours, tough workouts, revenue brought to the university, and success they have while at the university.

I agree with some of what Branch says during this talk and I question whether collegiate athletes would push themselves harder if they were getting paid. However, I also believe that the NCAA put these rules in place to make sure that young athletes first receive an education before they decide to perform their sports professionally. Branch talked about the scandal at UNC. The UNC Athletic department created classes for student athletes that didn’t even physically meet. These classes were considered ‘fake’ but the students were still awarded the credits needed to be eligible and to graduate. UNC purposely made these classes to allow student athletes to focus on their sport, however this obviously took away the educational experience. On this note, a big point of conflict that Branch highlighted during his talk was that if student athletes got money, the “student first” would be lost. The NCAA wants student athletes to put the student first and get the education needed for their life after college. Again, as a student athlete I know the pressure that is put on athletes to perform at their best. Practices and workouts are very demanding. It is hard to sit through class and not worry about the excruciating workout that you next. It is also challenging to keep focus in an 8:30am class after a 7am morning lift. Despite not being paid for playing lacrosse at Michigan, being a student athlete has helped me learn to prioritize my time, and I believe I push myself to the fullest everyday, with the help of my teammates and coaches.

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Athlete and Coach Contract?

What good are contracts for? What relationships use contracts? Are contracts really beneficial in the long run?

A coach will always expect a lot out of his athletes

A coach will always expect a lot out of his athletes

Contracts are great for all sorts of things. Many use them for business relationships, landlord and tenant relationships, employer and employee relationships, teacher and student relationships, and so on.

On the other hand, there are plenty of relationships that do not use contracts. Some of these include family relationships, friendships, and dating/romantic/marriage relationships.

In my life, one of the most important relationships that I have is with my coach. The relationship between an athlete and a coach is very special. There are actually many similarities to an employer and employee relationship. While my coach “owns” me in some sense, I work for him to the best of my ability to bring success to my team (or company, in the comparison). Having a contract between a employer and an employee is very important, because as an employer, you need to know that your employee will work their tail off at all times, will be trustworthy, respectful, and responsible.

Another relationship that can be compared with a coach and an athlete is a family relationship. In our gym, our coaches are almost seen as parental figures in our life. Being away on our own, we each (my teammates and I) lack the guidance that our parents once gave us. This, however, is nothing new to the college student. College is a time to find out who you truly are and make decisions for yourself. But, with the extra responsibilities as a student-athlete, it has made all the difference to have them supporting us each and every day. The relationship between family members normally does not have a contract—only in cases such as divorce or adoption, perhaps.

So where exactly does the relationship between an athlete and their coach fall? Should there be a contract, similar to the one in an employer/employee relationship? Or would a contract be unnecessary, like in any family relationship?

While these are all good questions, I turned to the experts on social contracts. Others (Hobbes, Locke) have looked at social contracts and exposed their findings/opinions, but I specifically looked at Jean Jacques Rousseau’s State of Nature and Critique of Civilization.

Rousseau

Rousseau

His anthropological theory states that in the state of nature, we are born free and people were by themselves—we were happy, not rational. Rousseau made it clear that once we started thinking, everything will begin to go to hell if we start comparing to one another, and if we are dependent on others’ opinions. Out of that, the part that stuck out most to me regarding the athlete/coach relationship was being dependent on others’ opinions. As an athlete, if I am dependent on my coaches’ opinion, I will never be satisfied. They will always want and expect more, because they can see the potential that I can’t.

This is why I believe that the coach/athlete relationship should remain without a contract.

Thinking about your life, what relationships would you like to use a contract for?

Dave Brandon is not a Prince

I see a lot of unhappy people walking around Michigan’s campus lately. While some of that may be due to upcoming midterms, a lot of that has to do with the football team’s losing streak. Michigan is considered the “winningest” football team in college history. (“Wikipedia”) This is a title its fans take very seriously. After the Lloyd Carr years Michigan struggled with the newly hired coach, Rich Rodriguez. The most recent coach, since 2011 is Brady Hoke who fans have come to regard with an almost fanatic hatred.

Machiavelli would not approve.

I group up in Ann Arbor and was raised by a diehard Wolverine’s fan who didn’t even attend the school. I remember the sentiments that the townies have had towards these two coaches. “Rich Rod” generally was regarded with disdain and fans praised the decision to hire the current Hoke. Many believed that the football team would be brought back to its glory days of the Schembechler years. The hopes were high, especially when Michigan beat Ohio State. However, people are fickle and when a football team with Michigan’s prestige begins to lose nearly every game people are bound to go ballistic.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in class the other day that a light bulb went off in my head. We were talking about Machiavelli and what it takes to be a good Prince. Sports are kind of like politics. Dave Brandon, is kind of the Prince. Except, he’s a prince who doesn’t know how to be a very good one. Michigan’s recent luck in football may have everything to do with fortuna and Brandon can’t figure out how to roll with the dice given to him.

Brandon believes in running athletics like a business. This is all due to him being a businessman himself; he was formerly an executive of Domino’s Pizza. While he may have exercise “manly strength” as a leader should, he also lacks foresight and the ability to win over his people. I’m sure Brandon had no idea that Michigan would do so poorly in football or that Shane Morris would sustain a concussion that would go unnoticed by Brady Hoke. However, by being a leader it is his job to deal with the unpredictable. Machiavelli would not approve of Dave Brandon or his actions. Because it was his actions following the Shane Morris injury that would prove Brandon does not have the characteristics to maintain respect as a leader. He released a press statement at 1 in the morning, further incriminating himself and his ability to lead. He has alienated himself from the people so much by portraying himself as an arrogant, narcissist that he no longer has any desirable traits. Maybe he is all of those things, but part of being a successful leader is not showing them. Machiavelli believes that a leader should portray themselves as kind, humane, and faithful. (“The Prince”) While Machiavelli also believes that it is better to be feared than loved, that is hardly what has become of Brandon. Students and fans congregate in the hopes of getting him fired and recently a fan even changed his occupation on Wikipedia to “Pizza Delivery Man.” (“The Detroit News”) 

Dave Brandon has raised millions of dollars for this University. Yet, his more noticeable contribution is the steep hike in ticket sales and the massive sports complexes he has built. He appears to have “dirty hands” when it comes to the Shane Morris incident as well. While he eventually came out in support of Brady Hoke, he still delayed making a press statement. All in all, he has portrayed himself as a poor leader. While Brandon has continuously justified his actions and policies over the years in an “the ends justify the means” attitude, there haven’t been tremendous results to justify anything.


Michigan needs to stand by their school, which cannot be done by boycotting the athletics department in any way. Where is our sense of nationalism? You cannot simply quit just because of poor leadership. Part of being in a strong nation is sticking with it even when the going gets tough. In turn, Michigan needs leaders who appear to have strong convictions, passion, and the ability to create a loyal following.