Kevin Cooney

Kevin Cooney has spent 20 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He has compiled more than 700 victories with the Owls and more than 850 wins in his 24-year career as a head coach. Cooney has spent the past five seasons offering his thoughts on baseball - and other things - for Cooney's Owls finished their first season in the Sun Belt Conference at 36-22 in 2007.




February 14, 2008

The Needle and the Damage Done

Like most of the baseball world, I spent last night watching the highlights (or lowlights) of the Congressional hearings with Roger Clemens and his accuser.


Although you could make the argument that Congress has better things to do than referee a classic he said-he said debate, I think that their attention to this dark side of American sports is warranted because of the influence professional athletes have on the young people of this country. The Mitchell Report’s estimate of high school steroid users was appalling in its scope and certainly justifies the scrutiny of our lawmakers.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that Roger Clemens was not one of my favorite players, but when he was kind enough to appear at our banquet a few years ago, he showed me another side to his public persona. At a time when he was being hounded about retiring or playing again, Clemens graciously spent nearly an hour speaking with our players. While the banquet attendees and the press waited downstairs, Roger encouraged and inspired our young players in a way that all coaches would envy.

He made me look at him differently that night.

Unfortunately, he has done the same since the Mitchell Report’s release.

My first job as a head coach was at Watchung Hills High School in New Jersey. I replaced Pete Falzarano, who had been very successful in his tenure and was still there as a P.E teacher. Falz was nice enough to take me under his wing and try to help a young coach. His most emphatic advice was the warning that “your best kid will lie to you.”

I always passed it off as Pete being a little burned out and older than me. Surely that wouldn’t happen in my career.

But, in fact it already had.

Two years before that, I was an assistant at Montclair State, and we were in the College Division World Series in Springfield, Ill. Our players were housed in a local Divinity college, and the young assistant was left to ride herd on the players.

The second night, the building supervisor came and told me there were young girls on our floor. I don’t think they were part of a Bible study group. We went room to room with no sign of the trespassers, until I got to our star freshman’s room. When we opened his door, this good kid was sitting on the side of the bed reading a book. After he denied seeing any females, the supervisor said, “He’s lying.” We reopened the door and a pretty young thing was standing there.

That may have been my first time, but it hasn’t been my last. But throughout my career I have tried to emphasize to our kids that, no matter how painful, they need to tell the truth. Sometimes they listen, many times they don’t.

When Clemens had no comment immediately after the Mitchell Report’s release, it looked suspicious. If innocent, wouldn’t he immediately refute the charges? Since that time, the story seems worse, including the inclusion of his wife, nanny and best friend.

The American public wants honesty in its politicians, and no less, in its heroes. If these things are true, I think most people would have accepted a statement years ago that in an effort to keep playing the game he loved, a player resorted to the advantages offered by science. Admit it was wrong, express remorse and the people usually understand. No one is perfect.

But when people won’t admit their mistakes, the court of public opinion usually works against them.

The damage is done.