The ongoing scandal surrounding the Nihon University football team has embarrassed many of its present and former players.
The Japan Times reached out to a couple of former players for the Phoenix to ask their feelings on Thursday, and they spoke — on condition of anonymity — with profound disapproval of what their ex-team did and the way their alma mater has handled the matter.
One former player was not even angry. He feels ashamed because the team and head coach Masato Uchida are not what he remembers.
He said that Uchida was not like how he is currently being perceived by the public, but was more like a big brother figure who cared about his players.
The players think that the school’s must-win attitude made Uchida take a different approach.
Nihon University, which is widely known as Nichidai, has won 21 Koshien Bowl national championship titles, the second most of all time. The glory days for the school were primarily between the 1950s and 1980s, mostly under the leadership of late head coach Mikio Shinotake.
Nichidai began losing its luster after its Koshien Bowl-winning season in 1990. But Shinotake was a legend by that point. So the former player says that the frustration from the school and those who were associated with its football team was directed at Uchida, who was offensive coach at the time. Nichidai was even demoted to the second division of the Kanto collegiate league in 2001.
“Once you start losing, you get a lot of criticism and all that,” the player said. “But they can’t say that to Shinotake. They would tell Uchida to do something to make the team win again.”
Under the guidance of Uchida, who took over the helm in 2003, Nichidai returned to being a top contender in Kanto, making five trips to the Koshien Bowl since 2007. The Phoenix captured their first national title in 27 years last season.
The players said that Uchida then began assembling a staff around him that he could trust and did not admonish him.
“Now there are only yes men around him,” he said.
Off the field, Uchida kept rising in his position at the university and the former player thinks that he gained even more power both as a university executive and football coach, which eventually led to the foul tackle incident. Uchida resigned as head coach last Saturday, yet has remained as a senior board member of the school, which is the country’s biggest in terms of enrollment.
Another former Nichidai player labeled the incident “shameful” and “pitiful,” adding that the school, team and coaches have handled the situation in disgraceful fashion.
He said that he had a gut feeling that something like the incident — where defensive end Taisuke Miyagawa made dangerous late tackles on Kwansei Gakuin University’s quarterback — would happen after Uchida became the head coach.
On Tuesday, Miyagawa claimed at a news conference that he was forced by Uchida and defensive coach Tsutomu Inoue to injure the quarterback, explaining the back story leading up to the game.
Uchida and Inoue hosted their own news conference on Wednesday — long after the game in question — and denied Miyagawa’s allegation. Inoue admitted that he told Miyagawa to “crush” the quarterback in an attempt to inspire him.
Although he has no intention of defending them, the second former player thinks that the coaches might not have imagined that Miyagawa would actually do what he did.
“They did put unimaginable pressure on (Miyagawa) that he could not refuse,” the player said. “They should have known that he could not have refused. So there’s no way that they could say they didn’t think he would do it or that wasn’t their intention.”
He added that it is too hard to imagine a 20-year-old like Miyagawa choosing other options while playing in the dictatorial environment manufactured at Nichidai.
Both former players admired Miyagawa’s courage in speaking before 300-plus reporters about the incident.
The first player said Miyagawa was a “samurai.”
“Coach Shinotake trained his players hard as well, but he cherished them, too,” he said. “But (Miyagawa) was saying that (Uchida) also never communicates with his players. That’s unbelievable. I don’t know what the head coach is supposed to be for.”
The future of the Phoenix football team could be in grave danger over the massive scandal.
The two former players think the program will have to accept whatever the fallout from the scandal is.
The second player said it would be a shame if the collegiate team he once competed for is disbanded, but that is not what is occupying his mind.
His heart goes out to those young football players that were involved in the incident and could have a bright future in the sport.
“Whether the Kwansei Gakuin player will be able to get back to practice and get back to his old self in games, whether his father’s job goes smoothly (he is a city council member in Osaka), or whether Miyagawa can ever return to the game (he suggested he would no longer play) . . . Those things are weighing much heavier in my mind, and to be honest, part of me thinks that it might be better for the team to fold. I mean, I’m not going to say the team should fold, but the priority should be on people.”
The incident is drawing attention overseas as well.
Chuck Mills, who is considered one of the fathers of Japanese football, wrote in an email that it is “sad that there is ill will between KG (Kwansei Gakuin) and Nihon University.”
“Looking at the tape, there was surely a breakdown of respect and honor,” said Mills, who brought his Utah State team to Japan to play against Japanese collegiate all-star teams in Tokyo and at Koshien Stadium in the early 1970s.
The award that is given to the best player in Japanese collegiate football is called the Chuck Mills Trophy.
“I hope the differences are settled,” the 89-year-old wrote. “All players and coaches must honor the game. If you don’t honor the core of the game, then you show disrespect yourself.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.