clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Remedial Manhood 101

Any time Bob Knight is in the news, defenders and detractors come out of the
woodwork. This one is no exception.  We've been back and forth on Knight.
When he had the restaurant incident, where the guitar maker called him a racist
and stayed in his face, we took his side.  When he shot his friend, in a
hunting accident (a minor wound), and didn't call the police, in violation of
the law, we took issue with him.  We try to keep in mind what Krzyzewski
said about him, which is that you should listen to what he says, not how he says
it, which is probably at the heart of what a lot of people say in his defense,
which you've heard in one form or another by now - he cares about his kids, runs
a clean program, has a kind side he doesn't show the public, so on and so forth.

All of which we believe is true, though we don't think it always excuses his
behavior.

However, when we read a
truly dumb defense of Knight
like this one, there's an obligation for
someone to rebut it.

Paul Ensslin is the managine editor for Sports at Nando.net.

His basic defense of Knight is a traditional one: he's a very good man and a
very good coach and doesn't deserve these "cheap shots" (Ensslin then
goes on to deliver a number of his own cheap shots).

We'll be the first to admit the validity of anger in coaching.  When you
are trying to get a point across, periodically anger is a great way to do it,
particularly when it hasn't gotten across yet.  We'll also defend
profanity, to a point, because profanity, properly understood, and properly
used, emphasizes a point in a way that more pleasant vocabulary can't. 
John Wooden would contest that, but he's a better man than either of us, and
when he called the referee a crook in his final game, it probably had more force
than any curseword. 

Coaches are going to yell, and curse, and get angry, and challenge their
players.  Relatively few can get away without doing all three. 
Valvano and Cremins were happy-go-lucky sorts who could bliss their way through
things which would give a lesser man an ulcer, but most coaches periodically
lose it, either for effect or for real.  Coaches also challenge their
players in various ways, and that's fine too.

The idea that Knight is hard to play for and demanding, sort of like a
coarser Paper Chase, that's ok, too. So were Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, and John
Wooden. All of them demanded excellence, and they were right to do so.

Where this guy goes off the map, though, is in three key places: 1) assuming
that anyone who couldn't take Knight's methods is a weakling;  2) the
assumption that mistreating players makes them better men, and  3) making
excuses for Bob Knight, who, as the fine man he is said to be, doesn't need
excuses, and certainly not from what he might term, with his vast knowledge of
history, a "useful idiot" in the press.

First of all, even if you accept that Knight's methods are entirely
acceptable, which we don't, guys like Jason Collier and Luke Recker and Neil
Reed can go there and give it a go and that it's not for them doesn't make them
crybabys.  If anything, it underscores Knight's insistence that the world
adapt to him, which is a doomed venture from the start.  There is a huge
spectrum of temperaments in the human condition, and Bob Knight's no more
defines manhood than, say,  Nurse Ratchett's or Tammy Baker's defines
womanhood.

That notion is pretty offensive, but the idea that putting people in
"boot camp" makes them better men  is just nonsense. First of
all, lots of sickos have come out of boot camp, Timothy McVie among them. It's
not like it cleanses the soul. 

Secondly,  large numbers of fully formed men come out of Mike
Krzyzewski's program without being treated as harshly as Knight treats his
charges. Dean Smith turned out  lawyers and doctors and good citizens by
the bushel.  John Wooden did the same.  None of them were as abrasive
as Knight.   And as far as it goes, the
wav file which has been floating around
underscores an important point about
how Knight perceives things: he doesn't talk about how they are failing to reach
their potential or how they are making mistakes or being imperfect men. Rather,
he is threatening them, and then he says what is, to us, the key phrase:
"you are not going to do that to me again" - in reference to
losing the Purdue game.  Theres' no mention of team; it's what the team has
done to him. He says he is "sick and fucking tired"  of
mediocre records and promises physical punishment. It's really a remarkable
tirade, and worth a listen if you have never heard it.

If you accept the notion that the best way to build a man is to first destroy
him, then Knight is a genius.  But if you do accept that, then why not go
whole-hog and admire the current masters of this mentality, the Taliban of
Afghanistan? They enforce an absolutely rigid code of behavior, to the point of
jailing some ethnic groups for not growing beards, which they cannot do no
matter how long they stay in jail. That'll teach em!!

Where do you draw the limit on this kind of character building?  For us,
it's well before you kick a player or grab his neck..  It's just not
necessary to do that to get what you want out of people. In fact, it's not
working for Knight: his teams have been pretty thoroughly mediocre for the past
several years, and while staying on someone is often necessary if you want to
get the best out of them, sometimes you can push other buttons more effectively.

Finally, given his admitted high regard for Knight's manhood, why does
Ensslin insist on making excuses for him?  He says Neil Reed "whines
like a baby."  He says that Knight won't settle for less than
excellence, and that only the tough survive under Knight, that the
"weak" players like Reed, who played for an entire season with an
injured shoulder, garnering much praise from Knight for his courage,
"shouldn't try to play for Indiana."  

He admits that Knight grabbed the guy by the throat, but then goes on to make
the most egregious excuse of all: he puts himself in Knight's mind and says that
"once he knew he had Reed's full attention, he took his hand away and
stepped back."

Get real. Why does Bob Knight need anyone - much less a sportswiter, for whom
as a class he has a drooling contempt - making excuses for him?  

He goes on to say that this is tough love, but it's not. It's part of a
pattern with Knight. Yes, he's brilliant and demanding. He's also an intolerant
bully who has no problem with grabbing someone by the throat, or kicking
someone, or head butting, or berating his boss, or stuffing people in trashcans,
or screaming at a Canadian police officer, or throwing a chair across the floor,
or a million other things.  

We have one basic question for this line of defense for Knight, which holds
that his forming of character is the most important thing he brings to the
table: why does he have so little of his own? Why does he ask more of his
players than of himself?  Why does he insist that the rules which apply to
the rest of civilized society don't apply to him? 

Bob Knight has an awful lot of good qualities, but the ability to play well
with others, in the kindergarten phrase, isn't among them.  His love of
discipline is for others, not himself.  His insistence on proper form, on
the court and off, is laudable, but laughable as well, since he asks of
teenagers and young men what he, a man nearing retirement age, has never
mastered: self control. As Krzyzewski said, it's important to listen to what
Knight says, rather than how he says it, but with all due respect: why can't
Knight listen to it himself?

One last point: by coincidence, we happen to know that Nando.net had a
manager with a temperament similar to Knight's, though lacking most of Knight's redeeming qualities.  We have heard a few of
this character's tirades personally, and we wonder if Mr. Ensslin hasn't heard a
few himself, and if so, if he felt like a "better man" for having gone
through a boot camp and "tough love"  of his own.  If he
worked with this manager, and was screamed at and humiliated in front of a
number of other people on a few occasions, we'd love to know: did it prepare him
better for the rest of his working life? Does he feel like more of a man, as he
assures us that Indiana players do? Our guess is that if he worked with this
individual, he hated having to deal with it, and further, we'd guess that if you
pressed Mr. Ensslin, he'd suggest that, well, of course he didn't need
that kind of masculine boot camp because, well, he's already man enough. Our
suspicion is that sort of treatment is seen as something for lesser men, those
who actually need it. You know, guys like Neil Reed, who, Ensslin says,
should ""just admit that the challenge of becoming a man is too difficult.
"

Maybe. But Neil Reed is a recent college graduate. He's got time to figure
things out.  Here's hoping he reaches more thoughtful conclusions about
what it means to be a man than Paul Ensslin has managed so far.