The Cincinnati Bengals are my favorite NFL team, which historically has meant that I’ve grown used to poor-to-mediocre football (although the last couple of years have shown some promise). Some of those bad teams were the Bengals at the millennium’s turn, and from 2001-05, their quarterback was Jon Kitna. From most accounts, he was an adequate quarterback, but an exceptional guy. Well, he seems to be proving it these days.
Kitna now works as a coach and math teacher at his old high school in Tacoma, a school that is hardly a garden spot. But he actually seems to be having a positive effect on the kids, and he’s putting his own NFL earnings on the line in the process. More to the point, he seems to be teaching a number of lessons to his kids:
One day this fall Kitna was told of a football player who watched another student draw a derogatory picture of a classmate. The football player had nothing to do with the drawing but he laughed. Kitna had a meeting with the player, the teacher and the student who was the target of the drawing.
“Well you didn’t do anything to help the situation,” Kitna told the player. “You didn’t reject passivity.”
Then he suspended the player for two series in the upcoming game.
Later that week, a group of football players surrounded a group of girl volleyball players from a different school who had come to Lincoln for a match. Two of the players danced suggestively in front of the girls. When Kitna found out about it the next day, he gathered the team together.
“Who was there?” he asked.
Two players raised their hands.
“Who else was there?” he demanded.
Eventually five more players stood before him with hands raised. “You who did it, you are out a half,” Kitna said. “And you who didn’t do anything about it, you are out for two series.”
Months later, now, Kitna shakes his head. Lincoln lost its starting quarterback, a starting defensive lineman, starting center, a starting receiver and a starting linebacker for parts of that next game. The other team returned a punt for a touchdown, perhaps in part because special teams practice was canceled for the meeting about the volleyball incident. The replacement quarterback had a pass intercepted for a touchdown and Lincoln lost. It was a critical defeat in a 5-5 season.
“They got to feel the impact of losing a football game because of the decisions we make,” he says. “But the greater things was [that] the freshmen got to see it. ‘Coach doesn’t play, he really means this.’ ”
There’s a lot more to the story than this, and it’s worth a couple of minutes of your time.