A single dirty hit in a college football game three weeks ago has become a such a scandal in Japan that the perpetrator held a nationally televised press conference today to explain himself.
Nihon University and Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan’s two most famous and successful college football programs, met for a game on May 6. On the first play of the game, Kwansei Gakuin QB Kousei Okuno rolled out to his right and tossed an incomplete pass. As he was drifting towards the sideline, Nihon defensive end Taisuke Miyagawa delivered a devastating late hit.
Okuno left the game with knee and back injuries and was ruled out for three weeks. Miyagawa was penalized, but allowed to stay in the game. Kwansei Gakuin was justifiably pissed with the flagrantly illegal hit, and they became even angrier after an anonymous player told the Asahi Shimbun that Nihon coach Masato Uchida ordered Miyagawa to “break the opponent’s quarterback.”
Uchida denied that, but Kwansei Gakuin coach Akira Toriuchi called him out for allowing Miyagawa to continue playing, and the school demanded an explanation and a formal apology. The fallout for Nihon was swift and severe: Several schools canceled their games against the team, the university teachers’ union condemned the hit for going against fair-play standards, and the leader of Japan’s Sports Agency called for an investigation and wondered why Uchidao hadn’t stepped down.
Today, Miyagawa addressed the national press and said that Uchida ordered him, through an assistant coach, to injure the opposing quarterback in order to prove that he cared enough about football to stay on the team. “After the practice (on May 5), [assistant coach Tsumotu] Inoue said to me, ‘I asked head coach what you would need to do to play in the game, he said if you squash the quarterback on the first play, we would let you play. So go tell him ‘I’ll squash the quarterback, so use me,’” Miyagawa recalled, later clarifying that the he understood the staff wanted him to knock Okuno out of the game.
Miyagawa says he went into a sideline tent and cried after being taken out of the game because he felt guilty about hurting Okuno. He says Uchida reproached him and told him not to be weak. “‘You are too naïve,’” Miyagawa says Uchida told him. “‘You felt bad for the opponent, didn’t you?’ I wasn’t strong enough to say no. Though I was ordered by the coaches, I could have refused but went ahead anyway and acted. It was weakness on my part.”
Miyagawa and his parents met with Uchida a few days after the game and asked if they could apologize to Okuno in person, but they say Uchida refused to allow them to visit Okuno or go public. Uchida resigned a few days before Miyagawa went public, but Okuno’s parents filed a police complaint, and Uchida could face further discipline. Still, he’s apparently refused to confirm Miyagawa’s account of events.
For his part, Miyagawa said he’s leaving the sport in shame. “I don’t think I have a right to continue playing American football, and I have no intention to do so,” he said.