I’ve told this story hundreds if not thousands of times, but one of the most important lessons I ever learned in life came my freshman year of high school. I played defensive end on a 5-3 defense, which would be fairly close to the equivalent to the OLB on a modern 3-4. During a scrimmage with Knox Carter, I missed a tackle because I half-assed got into the backfield and didn’t set a solid edge. Then, to compound matters, I dove at the running back as he sprinted by me and lay on the ground, feeling sorry for myself for not making the play. As I lay there, I heard Coach Brumley Greene come charging onto the field.
He grabbed my facemask, lifted me from the ground, and got in my face. For the next two minutes, he proceeded to berate me for my pathetic effort on the play. As he yelled and shook my facemask, spit flew from his mouth onto my glasses, cheeks, and lips. He let me know without question that I, and I alone, was the only person responsible for the effort I gave. This incident occurred in front of at least 100 people, most of them my age, and at the tender age of 13, I was mortified by the embarrassment. As soon as Coach Greene finished humiliating me, he turned to the other team’s coach and ordered him to run the same play. “Yes, sir,” was the only response.
On my second attempt, I nearly killed the poor ball carrier, and even before I could get to my feet, here came Coach Greene. Again, he grabbed my facemask and sprayed me with spittle, but this time it was in congratulations. Even at 13, I got it. My effort was the only difference in the two plays, and despite the humiliation, or maybe more accurately because of it, I learned in that moment the importance of giving my all. To this day, I cherish Coach Greene for teaching me that so early in life.
Today, however, he would be fired the moment he touched me. The spit alone would be grounds for a lawsuit, and that, I wholeheartedly believe, is the crux of where we’ve strayed as a nation. In a misguided attempt to protect young people’s feelings, we have robbed educators of some the most powerful teaching weapons in the arsenal. Humiliation, shame, and fear are mighty motivators, and some of the best life lessons we learn have to bruise our feelings to leave a lasting impression. From my own experience I can attest, the humiliation faded rather quickly, but the lesson has lasted my entire life. Thank you, Coach Greene, for caring enough to teach me that lesson.