I used to feel inferior about my insane degree of ineptitude when it came to sports. My childhood best friend was the basketball star of our tiny little class, so I tried to man up and pretend to be functional at it, too. That didn't work so well -- sadly, unlike orgasms, athletic prowess can't be faked.
You know those weirdos who get all antsy and annoying after they've been forced to sit still for a few hours -- the ones who turn to you during a movie or a show and dramatically whisper things like "I don't know if I can sit here much longer" or "OMG it'll feel soooo good to move"? Yeah, I am pretty much the opposite of those people. I've just never been one to enjoy "going for a jog," or "walking around the block," or even "stretching my legs." (Oh hi, lazy.)
Anyway, reading these scary news stories about a monstrous-sounding female basketball coach in Michigan makes me happy I never bothered to get off my ass in college.
Here's the deal: Beckie Francis, a women's basketball coach at Michigan's Oakland University, was unceremoniously fired last month for reasons unknown. That is, reasons unknown UNTIL NOW! USA Today reports that as many of 15 of Francis' former players have come forward with some seriously sketchy -- and outright bizarre -- allegations about their one-time mentor (who left her position after 13 seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances).
Some of the girls' claims? That Francis harped on their weight and only let the thinner girls play; that she insisted they stay pure and virginal (um, lady, this is COLLEGE); that she tried to force her religion on them; and that she used head games and intimidation tactics to try to scare them into submission.
One former team member, Stacey Farrell, claimed that in 2007, when she was a freshman at Oakland, Francis summoned all the freshmen players to her office to warn them, "We don't fraternize with the men's team." Then Francis reportedly interrogated them about their sex lives: "By the way, are you guys virgins? You guys are virgins, right? You haven't had sex, right?" A bunch of others recounted similar meetings with the apparently unhinged coach.
Other alarming allegations: that Francis tried to control their weight (um boundaries, plz?).
"If you weren't skinny, you wouldn't play," according to one ex-player, who asked not to be named.
In interviews with the Detroit Free Press, players recalled that Francis obsessed about their figures to a nutty degree -- she even took pictures of the girls in their sports bras, "flexing their muscles, front and back," to document their body fluctuations over time. One player said Francis would touch her stomach to feel her six-pack.
And, per USA Today, four of the players actually developed full-blown eating disorders after joining Francis' team. Ugh. Yeah, certain sports are notorious for their outsized pressure to be skinny and perfect (gymnastics, ballet, and figure skating come to mind), but basketball? And, obviously, no matter the sport, there's really no justification for manhandling your players' bodies and humiliating them by photographing them in their underwear.
Players also claimed Francis shoved her Jesus-loving beliefs down their throats, pushing them to attend church services with her on trips and making them watch Christian videos on the bus (nooooooooo! not Christian videos!). This type of religious harassment was especially painful for Jenna Bachrouche, a Muslim player who says she endured constant religious pressure, emotional abuse and weight jabs from the coach. She ended up transferring after 2 seasons.
"To have someone make you feel so insecure about yourself, for someone to have that kind of power over you, is really, really overwhelming," she told the Free Press.
In a weird turn, coach Francis' downfall came after she'd been lauded nationwide by everyone and their mother for her bravery (?!). Last October, Francis confessed to an Associated Press reporter that she'd been sexually abused, between the ages of 4 and 13, by her now-dead father. Then she lobbied in support of Erin's Law, bipartisan legislation which lets schools teach kids about sexual abuse.
In April, she even won an award for her "extraordinary courage while facing adversity in life" from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. But Oakland University was already investigating its rock-star coach after hearing discomfiting comments about her in players' end-of-season interviews. You might wonder why some girls didn't come forward sooner; apparently, players were too freaked to speak out against good old Beckie Francis because she was married to the university's president, Gary Russi.
On Twitter, Francis' bio reads: "Loves God. Child abuse advocate. Coach." Oof.
All we can really say is SAD, for both the players and Francis, who sounds like she suffered extreme childhood trauma. Hopefully she'll get herself some therapy, and soon.