[H]is early run-ins with the law, instead of provoking interventions by the football coaches who comprised the adult authority figures in his life, only brought cover-ups, aimed to protect their golden goose: a kid who coaches and who, scouts said in hushed tones, ran the ball like a future MVP. In listening to a series of interviews with old teammates, you hear stories of violence conjoined with mental illness: of someone who “didn’t have all the tools in his tool box,” who could turn from kindness to anger on a moment’s notice, lash out, and then be consumed with regret. This was someone who needed counseling. Instead, he had people just hoping he would win the big game before his next arrest.

That took place most notoriously at Nebraska, where Phillips dragged his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, a basketball player, down a flight of stairs. After pleading “no contest” to charges of misdemeanor assault, he was suspended for just six games. As for McEwen, she had her athletic scholarship taken away. An abhorrent message had been sent to not only Phillips but to a team that collected gender-violence charges like they collected conference titles.

Phillips’s coach, the legendary Tom Osborne, said at the time that he took Phillips back onto the team without further punishment because the young man needed “structure” and stability that only Cornhuskers football could offer. That “structure” was a college football program that, like so many others, was built on rank exploitation, with little care for the person under the helmet.

It’s even more insidious than that, isn’t it? Is it that hard to imagine a coach perceiving the twisted violence in a player, perceiving it play out astonishingly against women, perceiving the very same quality playing out against men on the field, and saying: Wow. Great. Let’s tap the football part of that violence… We only need it for a few seasons… Responsible people at the University of Nebraska must have known that wildchild Richie Incognito had a pretty empty toolbox too. I’m sure there have been plenty of other similarly exploited student athletes on that campus. Why hasn’t anyone at that campus proposed a serious investigation, conducted by an outsider, of its coaching and academic ethics over, say, the last two decades, in regard to its football players? I know that plenty of other universities behave the same way, but given the current spotlight on Nebraska, I think that school would be a good place to start.


A similarly harsh attack on the University of Nebraska.

Trackback URL for this post:

3 Responses to “Dave Zirin on Lawrence Phillips and the University of Nebraska”

  1. dmf Says:

    the local spin:

  2. JND Says:

    Apparently, Tom Osborne is God in Nebraska.

  3. dmf Says:

    JND, one would think so and yet even he couldn’t get elected as Governor here when he wouldn’t carry the bag for the real higher powers that be in property development.

Comment on this Entry

Latest UD posts at IHE