October 13, 2000

A Wreck at Tech

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Few things truly shock me anymore. If you watch the nightly news, or even pick up this paper with any regularity, you are bound to become desensitized to the violent crimes, the poverty, and the general depression in the world. It is hard not to become a bit cold and cynical today.

That’s why I was shocked at how I reacted to this week’s incident at Georgia Tech.

In case you missed it, the Rambling Wreck football team had just finished a practice when its head coach, George O’Leary, decided to crank up the intensity.

O’Leary had noticed that Dustin Vaitekunas, a second-string offensive lineman, had been missing his assignments in practice. So what is the best way to deal with this according to O’Leary? Have four defensive linemen rush at Vaitekunas so he would know what the quarterback felt like when faced an unbocked pass rush.

However, his brilliant plan went awry when at least two of the d-linemen apparently took it upon themselves to beat the tar out of Vaitekunas. He survived the drubbing, but was unable to get up from the ground for several minutes while he was gasping for breath, according to the AP.

O’Leary said that he didn’t want the kid touched. He just wanted to scare the blocker.

Now think about this for a minute: you’re a 6-7, 314-pounds offensive lineman and hard physical contact is part of your daily life. Now four defensive linemen are going to run at you and make you so scared about screwing up that you will never miss another block in your life, WITHOUT TOUCHING YOU!


There is no way a coach is going to make a lineman understand what a quarterback goes through without letting the lineman get hit. And hit hard.

I don’t know what O’Leary said about the drill, but I seriously doubt that the phrase “no contact” was ever mentioned. And why would the rush include four linemen, except for to knock the stuffing out of Vaitekunas? And if Vaitekunas was actually gasping for breath after the ‘drill,’ something tells me he was hit more than once.

As disturbing as this is, it gets worse.

The Athletic Director at Georgia Tech, Dave Braine, investigated the practice and found no reason to discipline O’Leary. Stated reasons for this include the fact that no one has ever brought a complaint against O’Leary before, and the Braine watches at least two practices a week and ‘knows’ that O’Leary is not a brutal coach.

Unstated reason might have something to do with O’Leary putting that football program back in the top-25 on a regular basis.

Though I was distressed by the front page of yesterday’s Sun, it was the AP story in my section that really shook me. As terrible as the suicide was, and as stupid as fighting with a glass bottle is, I couldn’t fathom the notion of O’Leary’s coaching techniques.

College athletics should be a place of joy and friendship, epitomized by people shooting for a common goal, and working many months a year to achieve it.

But this incident destroys my conception of the world of college sports. I’ve seen too many practices to pretend it is a happy-go-lucky way of life. But I have always felt that at the end of the day the coach would pull aside the kid he’d chewed out earlier and say, ‘Alright, you screwed up, but I think you have learned from it. Don’t forget about it, but don’t lose sleep over it.’

But seeing something that should be fun turned into a prison is just disheartening.

That a coach can order someone to get beat up for not playing to perfection in a game is something truly disturbing. And that the athletic administration would put winning above student-athletes’ health is vile.

And that’s why I’m so disturbed by O’Leary’s actions.

Archived article by J.V. Anderton