A player with Nihon University's American football team has come under fire for dangerously tackling the opposing Kwansei Gakuin University team's quarterback from behind long after he had released the ball in a game on May 6. The injured quarterback was unable to continue playing.
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It was vicious and unsporting behavior running counter to the spirit of fair play. One cannot help but wonder why Nihon University, the team's head coach and others concerned have failed to provide a convincing explanation about what led to the dangerous tackle.
Nihon University is an American football powerhouse, having won the Koshien Bowl, which determines Japan's No. 1 university American football team, 21 times -- the second most after Kwansei Gakuin University, which has 28 victories under its belt.
The Nihon University player in question played for the team last year when it won the Koshien Bowl for the first time in 27 years. Why did such a talented player commit such a dangerous act?
Suspicions have been raised that Masato Uchida, head coach of the team, may have allowed players to deliberately commit fouls. The head coach failed to warn the player after the dangerous tackle. Moreover, after the player was pulled from the game over repeated rough plays that violated the rules, another staffer apparently comforted him.
A source close to the team said the player performed the dangerous tackle at the instruction of the head coach. There were also news reports that the head coach said, "This is how we play," after the game.
This is all the more reason why Nihon University should sincerely respond, swiftly explaining the process leading up to the dangerous tackle. So far, the team has not gone further than expressing an apology on its official website -- and it has responded insufficiently to a letter of protest sent by Kwansei Gakuin University, raising questions as to how far Nihon University and its American football team are aware of the seriousness of the incident.
In the university's in-house probe, Uchida denied having instructed the player to commit fouls. In response to the letter of protest, Nihon University explained the team instructs players to have "strictness based on the rules." The university explained to Kwansei Gakuin that there was a perception gap between coaches and players over the "strictness."
The university's explanation insinuates that the players misconstrued the meaning of strictness -- a stance that raises questions. It is only natural that Kwansei Gakuin is growing distrustful of Nihon University as the head coach has failed to publicly explain the incident.
The Kantoh Collegiate Football Association has set up a disciplinary committee to probe the dangerous play.
Nihon University's American football team boasts a long tradition and has had a strong influence on the American football community in Japan. The association should not take a weak-kneed stand in investigating the case, but rather display its leadership to normalize the situation.