There's no coddling in college football

by Anthony Bradley

Posted on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, at 3:22 pm

With our current climate of coddled college students whose feelings are not allow to be hurt and who must not be offended, the playing fields of college sports may be the last safe space for adults to properly mentor young men and women into early adulthood. Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney’s rebuke of an unwise decision by the team’s punter during the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game Saturday night against North Carolina was a good and necessary consequence of iron sharpening iron. (Disclaimer: I am a Clemson grad and a diehard fan of Tiger football.)

On a fourth down play late in the first half, Andy Teasdall decided to “play coach” and attempt to run 15 yards for a first down instead of booting the ball downfield. He failed miserably, gaining only four yards. Even on a designed fake punt called by the coach, 15 yards is usually beyond reach. And with the Tigers leading 14-9 and possessing the ball deep in their own territory, Teadall’s stunt called into question his capacity to exercise wisdom, and Swinney was right to publicly tear into him. (Four plays later, the Tar Heels quickly scored to take a 16-14 lead, but fortunately for Teasdall, his Tiger teammates bailed him out to win the game 45-37.)

As Teasdall made his way back to the Clemson sideline, Swinney ripped into him in a way that soon went viral on the internet and became the source of multiple jokes on social media. Was the coach justified? I say he was.

Swinney did not hold anything back in calling out Teasdall. During an interview with ABC’s sideline reporter at halftime, Swinney expressed his disappointment, saying the punter “tried to do something on his own.” Given Teasdall’s decision, his coach’s spirited response was more than appropriate. The decision was more than a mere mental error; Teasdall made a volitional choice to ignore his training and coach and go his own way, and he was rightly rebuked for it. His decision could have cost the team its entire season, including a possible national championship.

It was an important reminder that God has always dealt with His people in this way (Psalm 39:11). God tells His people exactly how to live, empowers them to do so with His Spirit for their own good, and then rebukes them when they try to go their own way. When God’s people make bad decisions they open themselves up to appropriate rebuke and discipline (Hebrews 4:12). God’s people are disciplined but not rejected, disciplined but still full members of His covenant community.

Dabo Swinney, after his rebuke of Andy Teasdall, did not do what many of us would have done. He did not bench his punter for the remainder of game or cut him permanently from the team. Teasdall was rebuked and then sent back out later in the game to do what he was charged to do as the punter, not as the special teams coach. I’m sure Swinney’s rebuke was not pleasant at the time, but, in the end, Teasdall will be a wiser and much improved player because of it. The rebuke was an act of grace and is sadly what many young adults will miss out on as we trade in refinement for trigger warnings and bruised pride.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Read more from this writer