Spelled out in uncensored English by The Athletic on Tuesday, the latest stories of abusive behavior by Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall are, in a word, gross. His alleged use of slang terms for female anatomy to insult his players’ manhood and insinuate a lack of toughness actually perform the opposite of their intentions.
They graphically illustrate Marshall’s own weakness.
This is a man who can’t coach fortitude without getting into the gutter, who confuses challenging his players with belittling them, who believes basketball is some kind of weird testosterone cage match. What a limited worldview. What a limited vocabulary. What limited teaching skills.
One of the most disturbing elements of this most recent Marshall story is the fact that the vile terminology, hand gestures and overall mentality said to be employed by Marshall 20 years ago at Winthrop was allegedly still in use recently at Wichita. Two decades into the 21st century, when it should be clearly understood that making women (and their anatomies) symbols of weakness is both inaccurate and objectionable, Gregg Marshall apparently has not evolved.
For many years, the P-word was the absolute favorite word among college basketball coaches. They used it as a verbal lash in hopes of producing a harder edge defensively or on the glass or setting screens. (In my experience it was less ubiquitous at football practices and games than basketball, for some reason.) I recall being behind the Duke bench at the 2001 Jimmy V. Classic in the Meadowlands and listening to assistant coach Johnny Dawkins drop a finger-pointing, F-bomb/P-word combo on each of the Blue Devils starters during a timeout after a poor start against Kentucky. Mike Krzyzewski listened impassively.
(There is a reason most coaches now pull their team away from the bench to sit on portable stools during timeouts. They don’t want the fans behind the bench to hear the profanity.)
Conversely, male genitalia has been the symbol of courage, boldness, confidence and assertiveness. I don’t think any color analysts were yelling “onions!” when Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale was winning both games of the 2018 Final Four with last-second shots. (Perhaps they should have been yelling “ovaries!”)
Anecdotally, I’d say the P-word and comparably vulgar terms have been in declining use among men’s basketball coaches (although media practice attendance also is on the decline, so there might be a correlation). There likely is a realization and an understanding within the profession that it’s not acceptable nomenclature. Getting after players is one thing—nobody said coaches have to be coddlers—but benighted insults are not going to fly the way they once did.
Except, maybe, at Wichita State. We’ll see what the school does from here, after previously hearing a laundry list of complaints about Marshall from former players that were reported by both Stadium and The Athletic a couple of weeks ago.
But the larger problem is this: In society at large, Gregg Marshall is not alone. If anything, it seems like this Girls Are Weak mindset is making a comeback. It should be deader than rotary dial phones and fold-up maps, but it isn’t. Fighting the inexorable tide of progress, the women-hating misogynists out there are loud and proud and still living like this is the 1970s.
If masculinity is to be protected in some threatened modern cavemen clans as an imperiled virtue, there has to be a corresponding vice. That vice is to be weak, soft—possessing the characteristics of a female. And boy, has the COVID-19 pandemic created a bull market for the cave clan to question the manliness of those who think a plague is something to take seriously.
This is the mindset that led a sports media opportunist turned failed armchair epidemiologist to market a slogan, “Don’t Be A P----,” and to put that acronym in hashtags and on T-shirts. It led to the ignorant misappropriation of the term “Karen”—from an entitled complainer to any weakling who is “scared” of the virus. It has led to the social media co-opting of male names into female ones (Pat, for instance, can be swapped out for Patty and Patricia. Clever stuff, if we’re back on the fifth grade playground.) It has led to every imaginable application of female anatomy as a presumed insult.
It’s all so retrograde. Especially when you consider the breadth of evidence within sports alone that women do not lack any traditional definition of toughness, fortitude or determination.
Pat Summitt, greatest of all women basketball coaches, famously went into labor during a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania. The University of Tennessee jet flying her home wanted to make an emergency landing in Virginia so she could give birth to son Tyler, but she vetoed that plan. Summitt wanted her son born in Tennessee, so she gritted it out and delivered in Knoxville. (Childbirth in general is one area where men generally don’t want to question a woman’s toughness.)
Chaunté Lowe, Olympic high jumper, trained through chemotherapy treatments in 2019 after a double mastectomy for breast cancer. Vomiting, nausea and extreme fatigue didn’t keep her from her workouts. Anyone want to question her toughness?
Gymnast Kerri Strug vaulted on a broken leg to cinch an Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1996. Skier Lindsey Vonn endured a succession of torn ligaments, broken bones, concussion and other injuries yet kept hurling herself down the side of mountains at a championship level. Katie Ledecky’s weekly swimming yardage and intensity would break some male swimmers. Wilma Rudolph went from stricken with polio as a child to the world’s fastest female sprinter. Who wants to deem them members of a weaker sex?
If you want another form of courage, there is the fearless barrier breaking of Billy Jean King, the Williams sisters, Becky Hammon, Nancy Lieberman, Janet Guthrie—the list is infinite, for those who choose to acknowledge it. We also might have a female vice president in a couple of weeks. So many strong women have made society better.
The Gregg Marshalls of the world keep trying to drag us backward, and he has more company than he should among the masses. But real men know that women don’t represent weakness. It’s time to have the strength to leave that stereotype—and the vulgar language that comes with it—in the past.