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Friday, January 31, 2020

Coach Morris Berger: Dining With Hitler

     In 2012, Morris Berger graduated from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri with a Bachelor's Degree in History. After his college graduation, he taught history at a Missouri high school where he was also on the football coaching staff. Mr. Berger, more interested in coaching than history, took an assistant coaching position at Missouri Western State University in St. Josephs. He next joined the coaching staff at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater before moving on to Texas State University in San Marcos.

     In January 2020, Morris Berger was named the offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Shortly after the 29-year-old joined the coaching staff, Kellen Voss, the sports editor of the college newspaper, The Grand Valley Lanthorn, interviewed Coach Berger. The question-and-answer article, entitled "Inside the Mind of GVSU's Newest Offensive Coordinator" and published on January 23, 2020, was your typical mindless sports piece.

     Kellen Voss, knowing that the new coach had an undergraduate degree in history, asked him to name a historical figure with whom he'd like to have dinner. Instead of responding to this puff-piece question with a typically safe answer like Jesus, Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln, Coach Berger stepped on a public relations landmine by saying he'd like to dine with, of all people, Adolph Hitler.

     Before justifying why he had picked the fascist who started World War Two and oversaw the murder of six million Jews as a dinner date, Coach acknowledged that his selection may not get "a good review" from readers. Talk about understatement.

     In reference to Hitler's legacy of massive world-wide death and destruction, Coach Berger the historian said, "It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can't deny he was a great leader."

    One might argue that Hitler, who led his country to devastating and total defeat before killing himself, was not a good leader nor an appropriate role model for the profession of coaching which is all about winning. And when a football team does lose, or has a bad season, the head coach doesn't kill himself. (He just gets fired.)

     Coach Morris Berger is probably a nice person who meant no harm in hypothetically asking Adolph Hitler to dinner for advice on leadership. He did, however, manage to do something that was almost impossible: He turned a sports piece in an obscure college newspaper into a national news item.

     Four days after Coach Berger's public relations fiasco, the school suspended him. On January 30, 2020, he "resigned." In a prepared statement released by the school, Morris Berger wrote: "In the past 11 years I have taken great pride in the responsibility and privilege of being a teacher, coach, mentor and valued member of the community. I was excited and proud to be at Grand Valley, and am disappointed that I will not get the opportunity to help these players in 2020. However, I do not want to be a distraction to these kids, this great university or Coach Mitchell as they begin preparation for the upcoming season."

     Morris Berger was a football coach who said something stupid. He should not have lost his job over this.

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