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Editorial: Coaches' response to dirty American football tackle shows lack of awareness

A news conference by two former coaches of Nihon University's American football team has raised serious doubts about the school's awareness of the public's growing distrust in it, stemming from a dangerous tackle in a game earlier this month.

Former head coach Masato Uchida and former coach Tsutomu Inoue held a press conference the day after Taisuke Miyagawa, 20, a player on the team, told reporters at a separate news conference that he performed the dirty tackle in a game against Kwansei Gakuin University on May 6 at the instruction of the coaches.

At his news conference, Miyagawa appeared in front of media cameras without hiding his name, and provided a detailed explanation of the events leading up to the dangerous tackle. But the following day, Uchida and Inoue repeatedly denied having instructed the player to carry out such a tackle.

Inoue admitted that he told Miyagawa to "crush" the Kwansei Gakuin quarterback but denied he meant that Miyagawa should injure the victim. Uchida said he did not see the dangerous tackle because he was following the ball's movements.

However, these explanations are far from convincing. Soon after the game, Uchida was quoted as saying, "It's OK to say I told the player to do it," suggesting that the head coach had given the dirty tackle the green light. Uchida reportedly said later that he thought Miyagawa "did a good job."

The rule-violating tackle took place shortly after the beginning of the game. Miyagawa was pulled from the game just several minutes into it because of his multiple fouls. One cannot help but wonder which part of Miyagawa's performance Uchida was praising.

The victim of the dirty tackle has filed a complaint with police over his injury. Attention is focused on whether Uchida and Inoue conspired with each other or abetted the dangerous play. Uchida and Inoue's statements have given the impression that they reacted sensitively to the word "injury," because they are desperate to evade criminal prosecution.

Nihon University's official position is that the incident is attributable to a gap between the coaches' instructions and the player's interpretation of those instructions. If there was indeed such a gap in perception, university officials should be discussing the coaches' incompetent instructional approach that caused that gap.

The coaches' comments during the news conference shed light on the outdated method of using intimidating behavior and words to pressure athletes -- a practice that was once rampant in Japan's sports community. The very fact that the university, which should be protecting its students, hastily arranged a news conference to counter the player's claims and protect itself highlights the institution's lack of common sense.

Moreover, an official of the university's public relations department has come under fire for attempting to forcibly discontinue the 2-hour news conference about 1 1/2 hours after it began.

Nihon University said a third-party panel it has set up will investigate the incident. However, the university's series of responses thus far have raised doubts about whether it can ensure that the investigation is neutral and credible.

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