As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Coach Bob Ernst was fired from the University of Washington about two weeks ago. In the time since, though part of me still cannot believe it, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how this could have happened, and it what it means. It has hit me quite personally, and there is no escaping the social media fallout: there have been a handful of local media articles without a lot of details; there have been lots of heartfelt pleas and expressions of disappointment and confusion littering my social media feeds from current and former athletes. But even with everything that has popped up over the past several days, both pro- and anti-Bob, no one has decisively been able to explain how all of this fell apart, and how one of the most legendary American rowing coaches of all time was fired mid-season after a forty-two year career in a NCAA DI program. As a former Husky, this matters to me. As someone who hopes to continue to contribute to the development of young rowing athletes in the future, I think this is something that our community can’t afford to ignore.
I should start by clarifying my relationship with Bob. Bob was the the Varsity Men’s Coach when I rowed at the University of Washington from 2002-2006. He was never my coach (I rowed under Eleanor McElvaine all four years), but Bob knew who I was, and was always enthusiastic and supportive when we saw each other around the boathouse. I could always count on him for a hearty, “What’s up Kalmoe?!” if we crossed paths at Conibear. Shortly after I graduated, Bob made the transition to the women’s team. From that point on, he made it his job to always keep tabs on me and my rowing career, and to offer unconditional support while I pursued my dreams on the international stage. Any time he was in Princeton, he did his best to connect with myself and the Husky alumnae here; and likewise we have made it a point to connect with Bob and the Team during their annual winter training camps in Chula Vista at the Olympic Training Center, or during our infrequent visits to Seattle. He has always made sure that Conibear’s doors are always open to us. Bob actively cultivated an excitement and interest in the national team with his current athletes by keeping us all connected, and creating a mutually beneficial line of communication between national team alums and his student athletes. I know for a fact that the Washington alums on the national team receive more regular contact and support from our alma mater than any other group of alums at the training center. Period. And that community and connection is something you can’t replace or replicate with anything else. Bob knew that.
Bob made me think about, and continually connect with, the program and the people who made me fall in love with the sport. He made me want to continue to stay involved and take an active role in making Washington Women’s Rowing the best team in the NCAA. When I would see him at winter camp in December, he would happily give me updates on new plans and ideas, on recruiting strategies and his thoughts on the direction of women’s rowing in the NCAA. His commitment and enthusiasm for building and rebuilding the women’s program with his wealth of experience at Washington was infectious, and it was difficult not to be inspired by his honest and pragmatic approach to developing a winning team in a rapidly changing athletic landscape. Bob encouraged me to consider coming back to Washington after my time on the national team, in order to be a part of it. I couldn’t think of anything that sounded more fun, or more rewarding.
Now, I’m not so sure.
One thing that no one seems to be talking about is that this is not just a surprising turn of events, but it is also the second consecutive Head Women’s Rowing Coach that, after some friction with their athletes, the University of Washington administration has unceremoniously tossed out the back door. Yes, Bob has a heftier resumé than his predecessor, and he may have gone out with more of a bang, so his termination is probably stealing the show. But the issue still stands that this appears to be a trend at Conibear — athlete complaints leading to reckless, unmitigated conflict resolution tactics that are embarrassing and completely out of control. The woman who coached the Washington women before Bob was my coach, Eleanor McElvaine. Eleanor was herself a Husky athlete having won multiple National Championships, who turned to coaching the Husky novice women for thirteen years before moving in to the Head Coach position in 2003. She was every bit the committed lifelong member of the Husky family that Bob has been, having dedicated both her student-athlete experience and her professional career to the program, before her termination in 2007. Eleanor inherited a struggling team in the wake of the retirement of Jan Harville, and so was tasked with the original renovation of the women’s program. Along the way she also encountered dissenting, unhappy athletes who complained to the athletic department, and eventually got her fired. But no one seems to be talking about how that could have possibly led to this.
As incredible as it is that someone like Bob could be dismissed so nonchalantly by a program that is supposed to be setting the standard for meticulously organized patterns of success in collegiate rowing, no one is broadening the scope of this discussion to acknowledge that this isn’t just a one-off, it’s a pattern. A trend. Soon to be an epidemic, if not held in check. Something is going on at Washington that is bigger than what happened to Bob, and this should be incredibly disheartening for alums, and for the idealists out there in the rowing community who want to believe that the very best parts of our sport are thriving, and being instilled in and valued by not just young rowers, but administrators and leadership who are making decisions about the future of the program. Not a single other major player in the NCAA DI women’s rowing field can boast this humiliating statistic: two members of their own family fired within a decade as a result of athlete complaints. Not Cal, not Stanford, not UVA, Brown, Ohio State, Princeton or anyone else. Washington is the only one. Why?
I think because many of the details surrounding the circumstances of Bob’s termination are based primarily on hearsay or spotty reports from athletes, there hasn’t been a definitive decision made about who is to blame for things spiraling so wildly out of control. I think it would be really easy to blame the athletes for what happened, and in large part, that is the way that things have been spun in the media. But based on what I know, I believe that everyone in this equation made mistakes. The athletes failed to use proper channels of communication in order to voice their concerns (VBC Officers, I am calling you out on this — you are elected to these positions by your peers to take on leadership responsibilities for your team. A sit down with your coach(es) and the four of you would have been a good starting point for any meetings you hoped to have before going to the ADs or including the entire team). Bob failed to control his emotions and keep his temper in check when presented with a situation that he did not expect or approve of. And lastly, the administration failed to provide structure and leadership to a group of their student athletes when they were faced with a stressful, scary, unpleasant, flawed-but-well-meaning attempt to make their athletic environment better. And to me, this is by far the biggest and the only inexcusable failure in the group.
As administrators, an athletic department’s only job is to make sure that the department runs smoothly and that staff and athletes have the resources they need to be successful. That’s it. One job. Watch out for your kids and your coaches. This was a point where athletes needed help navigating a tough situation, and instead of providing them with support and guidance through a well-thought-out process of respectful communication and mature conflict resolution, things were allowed to get completely out of control. And not just once, but twice. This was an important opportunity for our athletic administration to lead by example and thereby demonstrate to our student athletes positive “out of the boat” life skills. Now, the only thing they will have learned from all of this is how not to have handled this situation, without a clear understanding of what went wrong and why.
You can say that Bob is tough and that the athletes are coddled if you want; but friction between a coach and their athletes does not excuse an administration from doing their jobs and finding a way to make things work, even when things get tough. We expect our coaches to get the best out of our athletes, and we expect our athletes to give it. But none of it works if they don’t have an athletic department that will step in and do their best to manage things when we hit a little choppy water.
Lastly, I have to add that beyond my frustrations with the athletic leadership at Washington, there is something else about this story that bothers me. It seems there is a second part of the story that no one seems to want to talk about, so I suppose that leaves it up to me: and that is to say that none of this would have happened if Bob had been coaching male athletes. It’s hard for me to say it, and it will undoubtedly draw criticism, but I don’t see another way around it. In a time where women are fighting harder than ever to achieve gender equality, and in particular female athletes are fighting to achieve equal status to their male counterparts, something like this happens…that doesn’t really help our cause. The fact that it happened in a boathouse where the men’s team currently has its shit more-together than any other rowing team in the country (for men or for women) only makes it more awkward. I do support athletes seeking a quality athletic education that they feel is based on hard work, and respect. I do support athletes seeking change if they feel those expectations are not being met. But founding investigations based on complaints of a coach being “too tough” or having athletes be accountable for something as basic as their own body weights… I am very skeptical that administrators would have entertained those complaints coming from male athletes. Ladies, if we say we want to be treated equally, we have to mean it. We can’t ever expect that things are going to change if we can’t make up our minds about what we want to achieve as female athletes. Do we want to be coached by people who will push us past our limits and sometimes say things we don’t want to hear? Do we want to stop holding the world hostage with the threat of disordered eating at the mere mention of bodyweight in an athletic setting? Do we want to stop being framed as fragile, emotionally hysterical communities of smaller, slower, weaker, competitors?
Or do we want to row with the boys?
This isn’t about me saying one athlete did or said the wrong thing and that’s why we’re here. This is about addressing the way that female athletes as a community see themselves, and thereby changing the expectations put on us by ourselves and by others.
I don’t want my coach to talk to me that way because you shouldn’t coach women like that.
I don’t want my weight to be a topic because we shouldn’t talk about women’s bodies.
We can’t keep existing inside these outdated notions of what it means to be a woman in sport. And our athletic leadership shouldn’t keep enabling our female athletes to do so, either.
I don’t think of this entry as pro-Bob, or anti-Bob. It’s not pro- or anti-University of Washington. It is pro-athlete. Pro-learning. Pro-accountability. It is trying to make sense out of something that seems senseless. It’s disappointment in a flawed system. It’s frustration at my own inability to change it. I know there are a lot of people out there who have taken sides and are pro- or anti- lots of things because they are angry, and hurt. But I encourage you to direct that energy in to things that can have a positive and lasting impact on the quality of experience our student athletes are getting at Conibear, and everywhere in the UW athletic department. Think about what that might mean, for you, and then respond. Because as Huskies, that’s what we do: we respond, we don’t react.
My best wishes to the Husky Women in 2016 – who have really only left themselves one option by which to define their legacy: Win. Win everything.
Long Live the Dream,
31 thoughts on “The Thing About Bob”
Megan, This is a late entry, but for some reason Bob was on my mind and I was fortunate to find your post. I hope all is well with him. Your comments are from the heart and on point. I wish my writing skills were as excellent as yours–Good UW education.
I rowed for Navy Lightweights and was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer with Husky Rowing in the mid-1980s, mostly with the Lightweight program at the time. I was fortunate to have volunteered under Dick Erickson, and learned much from Bob Ernst and Jan Harville. Great people in a great program. One point I would like to make that is not clear in the above posts is “leadership style.” Although I am many miles away from Seattle, from what I understand is that a leadership style caused problems. So the question is: What is the proper leadership style to be used? My real job in the Navy centered around leadership in whatever duty I was assigned to carry out, so I do have some experience. I can also say that I learned the most about leadership working with greats like Dick, Bob and Jan, all had different styles but all were successful. Which one is the most effective? Cajoling, demeaning, supportive, tough, controlling, encouraging, etc? The answer is whatever works. All are the correct styles depending on the situation. The best leaders I have worked with could use any style and make it believable. The real key is knowing when to adopt the style, it’s not scientific but it is an art that involves among other attributes complete knowledge of the task and psychology of the individuals on the team. Leadership in a novice rowing camp requires a different style than leadership for an elite rowing camp. (An aside, One crew in a rowing club that I coached would have fired me if I did not allow smoke breaks! Interestingly this was an all women’s crew, they were older but tough).
My fear is for the athletes who were in the process of learning great things while trying to focus on making a boat move fast. I’m afraid they may have learned how to manipulate rather than adjust to a leadership style. This technique is often destructive to an organization. A manipulator does not last long in a successful organization, and if that is the lesson learned by that particular crew then they will have problems in the future. My sincere hope is that I am off base in this assumption.
I’ve said enough, but close with a wish that Bob be blessed with continued success as he has enjoyed for the majority of his career, and may you always be associated with fast boats.
Gary Harrell, USNA ’76; UW ’85
Megan, this post came up on my facebook feed today (facebook is creepy that way) so I read the whole thing again. I had the honor of meeting you last summer when I was in Henley for a reunion of old teammates, and I’ll say again what I said then, yours were the most succinct, right-on and admirable comments in the midst of this controversy. For this and for all you’ve done, I’m proud to be your fellow Husky.
I rowed with Bob on the varsity back at Irvine, and was a member of the same Pararescue Team for a bit in the Air Force. Our mentor/guru/coach for toughness and conditioning was a famously harccore water polo coach named Ed Newland (this tempered of course with the elegance of our rowing coach Duval Hecht, who quoted Pocock and Ulrickson and Conibear and others as fluently as he quoted the poet Yeats. Bob has all these elements in his style, though mostly Newland, plus his own dry, down to earth, occasionally gruff personality. For me this challenge has two parts: One, women are different from men, girls from boys. Coaching women takes a rather more nuanced skill set. I’ve coached women myself ‘and found Newland’s hardcore approach, which I personally admire greatly, unsuited when one is dealing with girls. On the other hand, there is something disturbing going on in today’s world, the coddled entitled thing is not just an urban myth. Students are getting faculty fired for using ‘trigger’ words, for being ‘mean’, for having the ‘wrong’ political or religious outlook, for saying or doing anything that upsets fragile student feelings. Tough instruction is fast becoming a synonym for abuse.This is happening all over the country. What is a university but a place to learn, to be challenged, to learn discipline, to expand one’s outlook. PErsonally I say melt the snowflakes. Tropuble is, this issue is so politically sensitive, it’s beocming impossible to find an administration willing or likely to back the teachers/coaches. My wife, Karen, was the first qualified woman rescue swimmer in the modern coast guard – recently the first Chief. She gives lectures around the country, the gist being – certainly woman should be allowed in traditional men’s military roles like hers, combat, special forces and so forth. But ONLY if they are not given lighter treatment then the men, the courses and physical discipline made easier Otherwise it not only puts them and their teammates at risk during a real mission, it demeans the very idea of equaiity. She has no patience with girls or woman who play the girly card, as she calls it. Not in her world. My final take? Changing times. On one hand to learn a different form of communication with today’s students, secondly, not to let them off the hook for the real effort that is required if one wants to be an honest success, in rowing, or any endeavor.
Well said BLV. As the “guy in the back” of that first UCI Varsity team I observed Bob from my forward facing seat and later both of you jumping out of my airplane when I was the “guy in the front”. Bob was never the biggest guy in the boat or the one with the best technique but no one brought more passion to the water than Bob. That passion carried through to his 42 years at UW, over the years as my travels on occasion would bring me to Seattle that passion was always there in our brief meetings and conversations.
Bob was my freshman coach. Years ago and times and people change but my experience with Bob was always positive, memorable, character building and respectful; never overbearing or over-demanding. He had our interests at heart, he was a hands on, heads in the game coach that knew and cared about us. There was drive, yes, but filled with humor and light moments as well. We were always a team. That comes from everyone involved. We all have work to do to improve physically and as a person. He helped us find the tools for both if we chose to apply effort and commitment to all aspects of our journey as students and as athletes. It is a tough balance.
I have run into Bob in a few chance situations when I came back to Masters rowing about three decades later. At rowing events and on-water work-outs when we had interactions from time to time, Bob has the same demeanor. I can’t speak to the issue more than to say that Bob has always been what I would want in a coach, for me, my children (if they were rowers) and my friends. Sad to see such a disappointing action taken in haste.
Thank you for the well written and thoughtful comments, Megan.
I’m late to the party on this, having just seen that Bob Ernst was fired a few months back. I just wanted to say thank you for such a thoughtful article. As a lifelong Husky and ’83 grad who knows a little about leading people, I am ashamed of the way the UW administration handled this. At the very least, a leadership teaching opportunity was lost and it appears, in fact, that a complete lack of leadership was bluntly demonstrated instead. Sadly, it seems that this is becoming the norm in American society. I would like to think we Huskies are better than that.
Great post. Only met Bob and members of the women’s team once, however he was very gracious and concerned for the individuals in the boat. Hopefully he will be able to catch on with another program and continue to share his experience, men or women.
I enjoyed reading your article about a this perfect storm of missteps. However I’m confused what you mean that this would have never happened to the men’s team. I feel caught. Is your perception that one shouldn’t demand respect, while simultaneously being challenged to excel? Do you mean that we should want to row with the boys? Is the model male defined? If we want to take ourselves seriously we should be more like men? I respect Bob Ernst for what he has given to the sport of rowing. He has shown the way for many an athlete, like yourself. Please clarify. I don’t think any woman sees themselves as fragile or hysterical…but some would certainly want to spin it that way. Thanks for starting the dialogue.
What has happened is a loss for the Washington Rowing program. It’s a loss for the coxswain Marlow Mizer, and a loss for the Ernst family. I suspect that only the most cynical of athletes are celebrating what has happened, and in the midst of it all I have no idea whose fault it is.
Winning this year would be nice I suppose, but I don’t think Washington represents the ‘winning at all costs’ mentality. On the contrary, my understanding of the Washington tradition is that it stands for much loftier ideals like self sacrifice, obedience, teamwork, and sportsmanship.
So we mourn today, but as more days pass, and as the kids continue to be taught the fundamentals of rowing and teamwork, there will certainly be a return to the joys of rowing at the University of Washington, and maybe even a few races won.
Thanks for a thoughtful well written piece. It brought up two thoughts:
(1) Weight adjusted erg scores. A lightweight who was trying out for heavyweight boats at selection camp I helped at expressed deep gratitude to me that the head coach used weight-adjusted erg scores. I realized much later that weight adjusted erg scores make sense for ALL rowers, men and women, heavy and lightweight. This would also redirect the fuss over “body image” to the real point, which is that a major factor in getting a boat from A to B as quickly as possible is power to weight. Obviously a sports physiologist’ should be involved to help target a weight which is not so low that power/endurance would suffer.
And tracking weight in itself is an extremely useful guideline in determining whether an athlete is overtraining or ill.
(2) Regular meetings of the coach with individual athletes to discuss how they are performing and what areas they need to work on to progress. I saw this in action, and the coach pointed out the athletes know exactly where they rank in the pecking order: these meetings reassure them that the coach knows too. Can be wise to have a third party who is not directly involved in the room to keep things cool and as a sort of witness to what was said, in case there is a disagreement.
Megan, great piece as usual. I think that you did a great job representing all sides. I can’t agree with you more regarding the athletic department’s (“AD”) role and its inability to manage these types of conflicts. However, I am not sure that I agree that this issue would not have happened had it been the men’s team. A number of years ago, both coaches at Columbia University (men and women) were fired as a result of the athletes’ complainants to the AD for similar issues. Not only did the complaints come from the athletes but allegedly also from their parents? How has their terminations helped Columbia’s team? How will Bob’s termination help WU? You are correct, their legacy will have to be to win–win everything.
If this trend continues what reputable coach will take these positions? One can’t deny that these colleges are feeder programs for national team athletes–what does the future hold for the US internationally?
Spot on Ms Kalmoe. Balanced and spoken as a true rower. I coached women for GB at Moscow and it is interesting to see the mental development in oarswomen over the last 3 decades. They now think much more individually for personal performance than then when it was more of a team thing. In Moscow, most tended to row “for” their “leader”(coach) and now, like men, it is for themselves. I particularly like the knocking of the weight issue which as any rower knows is a key selection criterion. The very idea of politically correct banning of weight taking and publicising shows how far removed they are from a winning attitude.
I think it would be a mistake to let this alter your daughters decision. Every team has problems, some are just more publicized. It’s a tough decision to make, I can’t speak for swimming, but rowing is a love that many never let go of, I’d say its an addiction almost, an there is nothing in-between loving it and not liking it. good luck to her, not many get such great opportunities!
I love that you have addressed the issue in a more non-biased way, but I still feel like you have addressed it without anything from the athletes. I have friends on the team that I rowed with in high school, and I just can’t imagine any one of them being so dramatic as to approach a situation like the team did, or even have a problem with the coach unless it was REALLY bad, and every one of them would have said something to mediate such a dramatic reaction. Now I can only say that about a handful of people because I don’t know the other rowers, but I’m still just not satisfied. I will have to say that I would have much rather read this article first rather than the Seattle Times piece.
You have nailed it. I had come close to the same conclusion regarding the AD and associates, but I was unaware of the history wherein Bob is the second one to get the axe. A nicely written article that may cut uncomfortably close to what is wrong at Washington. I hope the President and the AD are paying attention!
You were able to put into words exactly how I have felt about this situation and the whole Eleanor thing. I was on the team when she started coaching the Varsity squad and I was so bothered by a number of the girls attitudes towards her that it ended up being a large reason that I stopped rowing with the team. Instead of communicating with her about their concerns they had secret meetings behind her back where they complained like middle schoolers and then of course this always makes things seem exponentially more dramatic than they need to be. It is immature and the opposite of productive. I love UW and I still support the team by cheering at every local race, but I was so disappointed then and I am just as bummed now.
You are right, the maturity and proactive problem solving needs to be led by the athletic department. A team could be able to handle it themselves with strong leaders and good communication, but if they are lacking in those qualities they need help from those in charge.
Thanks for your article. I coach a high school girls crew team and I am going to share this perspective with them.
Congrats on all of your success!
Complaints of a coach being “too tough” – is this a direct quote? And if so, from who? I don’t believe that any of the current team members have been quoted as saying this. The real reasons behind complaints have also not been released by any of the parties directly involved. So as to how everyone has decided the women complained he is too tough I am not sure. A lot of this has been taken from news and media information, not from anyone involved.
Bob was my freshman rowing coach in his first UW year. I had been a golfer in HS, no rowing or other difficult sports to that point. From zero to rower, he enabled me to see that hard work and focus translated to a seat in a fast boat with like-minded athletes. He clearly communicated when one was moving the boat, and when one wasn’t. The head games of rowing are internal to the individual. Every stroke, every erg, every lift, and every bite at the table counted. We thought he was focused on performance, but it turns out he was focused on our success at problem solving. So, do we or do we not let the coach get under our skin? If we do, we lose because we focus on a relationship issue and not on our performance. Because of Bob’s influence I always feel I can outlast, or out problem-solve, or learn my limits in almost every situation. His lesson (and rowing’s lesson still and always) was to overcome limits and limited thinking. Tough? Yep. Fair? Well, how bad do you want to be in a fast boat with fast athletes? What, or who, would you let stop you? Look in the mirror, and not at the coach…
Megan, I’m going to respectfully disagree. My credentials: collegiate rower, rowing coach, referee. I’ve been in the sport for 25 years. If you haven’t taken Safe Sport (and it doesn’t sound like you have), you’re not really participating in the conversation that is actually happening. Studies have been coming out for a few years now that are showing a troubling pattern; coaches, who are in a unique position to influence the emotional development of kids and young adults, do significant damage when they have tempers they don’t control and say things that are intended to demean. THAT is the conversation. can say a coach was kind to you and followed your career. But that doesn’t implicitly prove that he wasn’t abusive to others, or even to you.
Coaches who are abusive can get away with it for decades. They are often highly successful. But success in this context is being redefined to include whether you hurt people along the way. “To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs” isn’t the way to coach kids, sorry.
And you actually blame them, the women who had the guts to stand up to a towering authority figure and ask him to consider changing something that was a) disturbing to them and b) OBJECTIVELY problematic, and he not only refused he ironically lost his temper not once, but twice. I’m not even addressing the rules violations that he was engaging in that put the administration in a very difficult position as well.
Bob could have responded so differently. He could have said he might have been coaching for a long time but he still has things to learn, and coaches should be learning from their athletes just like the athletes learn from their coaches. He could have stopped and said to himself times have been changing and maybe I need to change too.
You blame the athletes, and then you blame the administration. But think about the position he put them in; he flatly refused to even engage in the conversation, a conversation that has happening whether Bob, or you, like it or not, since the abuse scandal in USA Swimming nearly took down the national sport body.
Read about this. And then go talk to Mizer, if she’ll talk to you. Imagine the conversation with her. Ask her how hard it was to go as a sophomore to the national team summer camps, how she experienced different coaching there and how she came to realize that Bob’s temper and behavior was actually abusive and was causing a problem, how hard it must have been for her to try to have a conversation with him about it, how she felt when he threw her off the team or she chose to leave because of how he responded to her query.
Mizer is the one we should be listening to. Bob should have.
What it seems like is you are trying to guilt and/or shame me out of saying that these student-athletes are capable of taking accountability for their mistakes. That is never going to happen.
Did I suggest that the athletes made a mistake? Absolutely. The peer-elected leaders on the team could have handled this better, and part of learning how to be a leader is taking responsibility not only for your own actions but for those of the ones you lead (!)…and then learning from them. This is and has been a cornerstone of my own athletic education, much of which was developed at Washington. Where you are looking to cast these athletes as victims in whatever conversation you are having, I respect them too much to deny them the opportunity to be empowered as strong, confident, unified, mature (and fallible!) athletes by learning this way.
But please also note that I did suggest that there were bigger mistakes made by Bob and by the administration. I think there is actually a line in the post that just says “I believe everyone in this equation made mistakes.” The difference is that there is a place in an athletic department for mistakes made by 20 year old athletes who are learning as they go; and none for those made by salaried adult authority figures who are supposed to be the last line of defense in conflict resolution scenarios. No matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree that there was a lot going on here! But to say outright that I blame the athletes is a poor reading of the post.
It also sounds like you are explicitly accusing Bob of being abusive instead of “tough” which is the term that the media has been tossing around. That is a different, and also very serious, accusation that I don’t have any proof of. Though I can tell you with full authority that the first of the two Washington coaches to be terminated in this way, Eleanor, was never abusive. She did, however, probably inherit some of her own coaching style from her own collegiate coach, Bob Ernst.
I also think you are walking a very dangerous line bringing in comparisons with sexual abuse cases because in my mind that is a very different line of accusation and blame that does not have context here.
I didn’t write and post these thoughts lightly. I knew there was risk of hurt feelings and controversy, especially with the current athletes on the team who I like and respect very much. I have done nothing but bleed purple and gold for all my years as a female rowing athlete, maybe even more when I got to the national team. I was willing to put all of that on the line and risk my relationships with those athletes and the rest of the Husky Family because I think this is important, and I believe in the capacity of the female athletic community as a whole to be truly, truly great.
Smart, well thought out. Thank you for having the courage and leadership to bring these topics up.
I’m out of the loop re rowing (University of London 1980s) and stumbled across a share of this. Beautifully written piece Megan.
Not THAT far out Glen! Chris UL late sixties early seventies! Nice to see you keeping up with our Continental Cousins! Try the HoCharles next year!
Well written! Eleanor is an incredible coach now at Mt. Baker, and though it seems like a fall from greatness, she is still resilient and a strong leader in her own right.
Nice piece. Pro-athlete, Pro-learning and Pro-accountability, it was all that. Thirty-Five years of butt-kicking post-collegiate education and a successful, but brutally hard professional career, I have collegiate rowing to thank for helping me suck it up and thrive during the worst times. Tragic that today’s women rowers, at least at UW and probably elsewhere, demand the double-standard that I fought. Thanks to the action of the athletic department, the tough rowing lessons the UW women rowers could have learned will hit them with a vengeance when their “real” life begins.
Thank you, Megan. I shared this article with the high school girls I coach. Such a powerful message.
Well said Kalmoe. You were always a force to be reckoned with. While I agree with all that you have said, I believe that it’s also worth mentioning that this wouldn’t have happened on the mens team because they are not a strictly regulated NCAA sport, and as such, as far as I understand it don’t fall victim to the same stringent, and often inane rules and requirements that the women’s team does. I don’t believe (though I could be mistaken) that the compliance issues and risks are generally regarded quite the same way, or with quite as much reverence.
Otherwise I agree completely. Bob fell victim to an inexcusable process that benefitted no one. As much as I generally identify as a feminist, I worry that the fallout associated with both Bob and Eleanor are the negative effects of a society that has grown fearful and defensive of “feelings” and lawsuits. And it’s damaging.
Thank you for adding your voice and perspective. It enriches the discussion for all of as alums and I believe will make a difference.
Thanks so much for this article. In this day and age, it seems that being offended has become the trump card. The minute anyone says “I’m offended”, somehow, that person becomes right. We need to learn that sometimes, in order to achieve personal growth, we need to be exposed to things that don’t jive with what we already believe. I see this all the time in the classroom and in coaching. Granted, I’ve only been at it for 10 years, but the default response to being challenged has become “This is wrong!” We need to be better about teaching people to save those comments for when it really, truly, matters
Really excellent piece: and without casting stones this is a bigger problem in higher education. The Laura Kipnis Title IX case at Northwestern, trigger warnings, safe spaces at public talks by scholars. You name it: it is like feminism run amok, rather than giving women pride and making us resilient as it did back in the 1980s. What to do? I agree it is a leadership problem.
Very thoughtful and well-stated point of view. Some of the things you wrote about could only be written with credibility by a female athlete who has “been there and done that” with the great degree of success you have, Megan. And nice gold at Worlds last summer!
Well said and right from the heart !
Even for an ousider like me a good explanation what went wrong. And so much wasted energy. But maybe the time for you and your lessons learned session.
Finally it might have opened a door for someone else in a better administration – even for you and your talents beyond competitive rowing at the right time.
Good luck for your way in 2016 and beyond the olympics !
Non scholae, sed vitae !
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