As if we needed another reason to wish Eric Taylor were real: Beckie Francis was, until last month, the head women’s basketball coach of Oakland University in Michigan. Francis coached the Oakland Grizzlies for 13 seasons and received brilliant reviews. When she was fired hours after her husband mysteriously resigned as president of the college, the campus wondered why—until 15 former players spoke to the Detroit Free Press. These players described a reign of terror in which Francis obsessively monitored their social lives, virginity, religious devotion and body weight.
The “constant head games” included a talk Francis gave to incoming freshman about the importance of maintaining their sexual purity—which meant not fraternizing with the boys’ team—and the benching of girls who went out on weekends. Her motto, they said, was “pray to play,” and she reportedly pressured athletes (including the non-Christians) to attend her church services, watch religious videos on bus rides, and go to holiday parties in which Bible verses were read. Even more disturbing, Francis fixated on her players’ food intake and bodies. One student describes a series of thinly veiled comments encouraging her to diet, even though neither her teammates nor the assistant coaches thought she had a weight problem. Other players reported an instance in which Francis snapped photos of the team in sports bras and Spandex “to chart body changes” over the course of the season. Oh, and during practice, Francis allegedly tried to touch the girls’ stomachs, saying, “Let me feel your six-pack.” (Sure, coaches should be allowed to promote fitness, which can be tied to body weight, but making endless comments and then requesting to knead a player’s abdominal muscles is probably taking things a little far.)
Many of the women quit the team, and some even transferred schools. According to MSN, four Oakland woman players last season developed eating disorder symptoms—a tragic, if unsurprising, number.
Francis is the most recent in a series of disgraced coaches going back to former Rutgers’ basketball coach Mike Rice, former Penn State coach Rene Portland, and Jerry Sandusky. Her particular (alleged) brand of crazy, though, is all her own. A Jezebel commenter tried to explain it as “the marriage of religious fanaticism and competitive sports culture … one of the most obnoxious and most hilarious products of the American melting pot.” But while both traditions value discipline and control, and both can be used as bludgeons in the wrong hands, I’m inclined to think of Francis as sui generis. The stories are just so outlandish that I refuse to understand her in some sort of cultural context.