AUGUST 14, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 6
Kim/Kistone for TIME.
Jin Shin Hae on the court during the Women's Korea Basketball League
Korean women's basketball coach is banned for hitting a playerbut
his offense is all too common
By ROGER DEAN DU MARS Seoul
It's the first game of the Women's Korea Basketball League championship,
and the Hyundai Hyperion are leading the Shinsegae Cool Cat. Coach Jin
Song Ho stands behind the bench, shouting encouragement to his girls.
But there's something strange: Jin is a full 5 m away from the bench.
It's punishment for bad behavior. Over the past two years, Jin was responsible
for lifting the Hyperion, owned by Hyundai Construction Co., out of the
league's cellar. But he crossed the line. In June, after his second string
squandered a huge lead in a game, he lined up the team in the changing
area and smacked three players. Two of them got away with swollen faces.
Less lucky was Jin Shin Hae, a 20-year-old center who suffered a ruptured
That incident brought a dirty little secret out of the locker room: in
South Korea, coaches are prone to punish their players' poor performances
with violence. Such practice is noticed only when a player is badly injured,
as was Jin Shin Hae. Cover-ups are common. "If I'm a coach and you're
a player not doing well and we're in a closed room, I'm going to let you
have it," says Kim Joo Han, a Sports Chosun reporter who covers women's
professional basketball. "This violence goes on because nobody knows about
outside the league, perhaps. Within the Korean sports world, it is common
knowledge. When the six-team women's basketball league recruited 13 Chinese
players in spring, they were given contracts guaranteeing that the Korean
coaches would refrain from using corporal punishment. Jin, a former basketball
player himself, was signed by the Hyperion in 1998, and he was generally
regarded as the right man for the job, although his methods were never
known to be gentle. Last year he kicked forward Im Soon Jong, cracking
one of her ribs. The emotional scar left Im ineffective for the rest of
the season (though she returned this year in top form).
Kim/Kistone for TIME.
Jin Song Ho, coach of Hyundai Hyperion, directing players.
the incident in June, player Jin was rushed to Dongguk University Medical
Center to have her eardrum treated. The injury was supposed to be kept
mum. But the next morning, three anonymous messages appeared on the league's
official website. In the evening, the messages were deleted. The team's
hard-core fans, however, refused to let the story die. They bombarded
the website with complaints and alerted Lee Seong Hun, a reporter for
state-run television station kbs, which subsequently aired a story. The
following day both Jins, coach and player, publicly denied the report.
But word spread that the players were ordered to keep quiet, and, at a
press conference, an executive of Hyundai Construction finally admitted
the incident did occur. The coach has since downplayed the level of force
he used against Jin. "There really was no violence," he told Time, "but
just a light slap on the cheek to motivate the team."
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That's some serious motivation. According to Dr. Yoo Jun Sun who examined
Jin after the incident, the coach's strike punctured a small hole in the
player's eardrum. "If Jin's ear gets worse," says Dr. Park Hyun Soo, who
runs an ear, nose and throat clinic in Seoul, "some permanent hearing
loss could ensue."
The team devised a peculiar form of penalty for the coach. For several
games, he managed the team from a distance: he stood near one of the entrance
tunnels and gave instructions by cell phone. But every week he moved closer
to the bench. At the last game of the recently concluded championship,
Jin was back in his usual coach's seat. At season's end, however, the
league lowered the boom. Jin's coaching license was revoked, leaving him
with the only option of trying his luck in the men's league. "Coaches
know that hitting players is the fastest and easiest way to improve their
skills," maintains Cho Seung Youn, executive director of the wkbl. "However,
Jin has tarnished the reputation of the league and we can't accept his
That Jin's behavior became a public scandal might signal a change in Korean
society, according to Chang Pil Wha, professor of women's studies at Seoul's
Ewha Womans University. "It has been dominated by men and the military,"
she says, "but is now more flexible." The star center of the Shinsegae
Cool Cat, Chung Son Min, openly calls for an end to the battering of athletes.
"Look, we're professionals," she says. "This situation has got to change."
But old attitudes die hard. "Of course our coaches hit us," admits Kim
Ju Yeun, 16, a guard for Myong Shin Girls High School in Seoul. "Hitting
is O.K., as long as the coach stays in control." Still, Jin's fate may
be a lesson to heavy-handed coaches around Korea: beating your players
is more shameful than losing.
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