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Other Views: Coach-athlete relations sure have changed

A Fargo coach was fired last week because of a text message he sent to some of his upperclassmen players, challenging their commitment to the Shanley High School baseball program.

Joel Swanson wrote that after a successful season in 2013, “we are the team that will have a target on our backs.” He noted that attendance at non-mandatory, open-gym sessions was not as high as it should be, and he very bluntly told the players that.

Here is the remainder of his text message, verbatim: “I am sick of stupid excuses to not come to open gym. ... If you want to be an athlete commit to it. One hour a week is not too much to ask if you want to be an athlete.

“If you make an excuse not to come then you are telling me what kind of athlete you are. I cannot require you to come but I thought I would have a group excited to try and defend a title. Not to make excuses and not care. Some of you are not even in a sport right now, which is even more pathetic. ... I will not send out another message like this, but some of you may be in for a rude awakening when the season comes and you are not in the lineup due to a younger player that puts in the time.”

Shortly after Swanson sent that text, a parent complained to the school and Swanson was fired. The note is considered threatening in nature.

Times sure have changed.

Everybody remembers an over-the-top high school coach or gym teacher. It wasn’t too long ago that coaches literally would shove players, or scream in their face. Swearing wasn’t out of the ordinary, either.

Those days generally are gone, and that’s good. We’re a better society for it.

But we don’t agree that Swanson should have been fired for the wording in his text message. He was asking players to make a commitment, and he told them that an hour a week is not too much to ask for players to commit to their team. As he noted, some of those players are in for a “rude awakening when the season comes and you are not in the lineup due to a younger player that puts in the time.”

Swanson told our parent company, Forum Communications, that he doesn’t regret sending the message. We think some of his words were poorly chosen and his tone was too harsh at times, but we agree there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a coach sending players a strongly worded message. He was hired to coach kids and to teach them discipline and self-improvement. To us, he was trying to do that — maybe not in the best way, but in a way that could have been corrected by his superiors without a firing.

Really, the rude awakening Swanson predicts is yet to arrive. It will come to the children who have grown up in a setting that has allowed them to get by with minimal effort, without setting goals for themselves, without any interest in personal betterment and whose parents overreact when the going gets tough.