I think before deciding anything about the sport, you need to go to a few clubs and visit. I don't think it's negative at all. The 'stick' isn't used to harm the dog. It's also not like it's a steel pipe or base ball bat! IMO, those dogs are generally much more controlled than your average dog. Obedience is an absolute must. I saw dogs who were HAPPY. They were engaged with their handlers. They were happy to work. It's easy to take what someone says at face value. Educate your self, and go check this out for yourself. As far as 'hitting the dog a lot" I never saw that. I'd also say "wrong" about them being mean. It takes a stable dog to do SchH. The club I went to requires a temperament test, and doesn't allow dogs that are aggressive (like you're thinking) into the club. Trialing an aggressive dog would be very difficult, because any show of aggression (except during protection phase) disqualifies you.
Wrath of Grim z Dragon
"Mr. Grim"- Threaten my handler. I dare you.