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Some Thoughts On Knight

We kind of held off on writing about the Knight dismissal and listened and
read for a bit first. We've certainly heard some interesting things.
Vitale said it had to happen and urged Knight to get into therapy - advice he
said he knew would be rejected. We were somewhat astounded to hear a trustee on
The Fabulous Sports Babe say that Knight had systematically spread
disinformation about departed players, and that after his meeting with Brand,
the one where he saved his job, he went out in public and portrayed Brand as desperate
to retain his coach when in fact, the trustee said, Brand was very stern and
almost fired him at that point anyway.

Not exactly the ideal which is held up by Knight supporters of a straight
arrow and a guy who couldn't lie if his life depended on it, is it? Piled on top
of that is Dane
Fife's saying he's transferring at Knight's urging.
So: not content
with screwing up his own life, he's manipulating a kid into doing something
which will hurt Indiana. Never mind that the kid might be in a good situation -
who knows? It could turn out that his new coach might be a breath of fresh

We also seem to remember a Clintonesque response from Knight over the Reed
video, saying that he didn't remember, or that he might have grabbed him to
position him. This despite the fact that IU knew that the former assistant
had the tape, that it was the only taped practice missing, and, if we remember
correctly, that they had looked for the tape. Why? Could it be because
they knew what was on it?

A lot of Knight's reputation for honesty has been damaged. Yes, he'll say
exactly what he thinks, but if the trustee is to be believed, he'll also
manipulate and smear. Dane Fife, who at times appears to be a profound innocent
("Obviously, he has to change. I'm not sure what he needs to do. He's got to be careful with reporters, not throw any chairs when he's on the floor and avoid pounding the scorer's table."
) is also evidence of this, as he is being persuaded by Knight to transfer. Is
this in his best interest? How could he say? He doesn't know what his
situation is. Since the semester has started, he might as well stick around til
Christmas and see what happens.

There has been a lot of comment on what the President revealed, namely that
there were multiple violations of the letter and spirit of zero tolerance. Why
did he not toss Knight at the first violation? That's easy.

Many of you have been away from academia for too long, or maybe not long
enough, but it's as ugly a jungle as anywhere in humanity, and the politics are
cutthroat. Here's the way it works: when you are going to move on someone,
you have to document heavily and relentlessly. When the victim realizes he/she
is about to be attacked, the proper response is to document your side of the
story meticulously. English majors pay attention! This is an essential
part of your training should you decide on teaching.

In every way, Brand had the right to fire Knight after the first
offense. However, it would have been a political disaster and, given the
reactions in Bloomington, possibly could have led to tragedy.

In other words, while the inappropriate contact was the catalyst, by itself
it was useless. This event allowed the University to put the other cards
on the table. So in a very public and documented way, the school laid out the
accumulated evidence for all to see. Seven violations of the policy, topped off
by whatever happened with the kid. He could have kicked a quad dog.
Same difference.

Does that mean the kid amounted to what Lenin might have called a
"useful idiot?" Sure. Our impression is that the school had
carefully gathered the information and then, when Knight blew up publicly, or at
least had a public controversy, they pounced. Do we think it was a setup?
No. This kid is from Bloomington. He knows what Murray Sperber has been
through. Surely he knows the cost of attacking Knight in the heart of his
empire. Those of us far from the Hoosier State read stories and hear
things. You know they do in Bloomington also.

Knight of course said that he grabbed the kid out of concern for his lack of
manners. That's worth a laugh. This is the guy - ok, the man - who
threw a potted plant at a little tiny secretary who was over 60. Ok, he
threw it at the wall. But it was close enough to be frightening. How would you
like to see a 6-5 guy in a rage throw a potted plant in your direction? Then
Myles Brand reported that Knight verbally abused a woman in his office. We are
old fashioned enough that while we fully subscribe to equality between the
sexes, we nonetheless believe that men are not supposed to behave in such a
disgraceful manner towards women. For Knight to stop a student and lecture
him on his manners boggles the mind. Gentlemen do not throw things at
ladies, nor in their general direction, or even in their presence. Nor do
gentlemen throw a fit at a woman who brings up topics he would rather
avoid. Nor, for that matter, do gentlemen attack officers of the law,
stuff fans of opposing schools into wastebaskets, grab young men by the
throat, either on a basketball court or a parking lot, nor do they throw
furniture in a building.. The idea of Knight lecturing on manners and
civility is like Bill Clinton lecturing on the need for monogamy. Who
needs it? They don't buy it and they shouldn't criticize it in others.

None of this of course rebuts the man's considerable gifts. He is
capable of brilliant strategy, he is learned in history, culture, and warfare,
and had his life trajectory been somewhat altered (along with his temper), it's
easy to imagine him as a U.S. Senator or higher. He's that smart.

But at the same time, just because you are usually the smartest guy in the
room doesn't give you carte blanche to abuse people. Dick Vitale, who at times
is sort of like the first ever Muppet clone (think about it - he's a Muppet
waiting to happen), nonetheless has an innate dignity and respect for other
people and his comment on the subject was simple: there's no need to humiliate
other people. Vitale is no towering intellect, which isn't to say he's a
dummy because he's anything but. His life is best measured by three things: 1)
his true love for young people, which they return in immense waves of affection
all over the country, 2) his sincere and relentless willingness to raise money
for charity, and 3) his fundamental decency. He bends over backwards to
avoid harsh criticism of other people, particularly coaches and young players,
and always couches his criticism with optimism that whoever is being discussed
will improve. A typical Vitale criticism will go something like this:
"Corey Maggette had to know taking money was wrong. He should pay Duke back
whatever penalties they are assessed, and let's hope in the future that he'll
learn from this, and that he'll be a better man down the road." A perfect
Vitale criticism: damn the sin and love the sinner. We should all be that
generous, and what a contrast to Knight.

As far as we can tell, Bob Knight is under the impression that the world will
bend to his considerable will. Yes, in basketball anyway he's a genius.
Yes, he does a lot of good things for many people, and never calls attention to
those things. Yes he does stay loyal to the majority of his players,
Krzyzewski, Alford, Reid, Carter and a few others aside. He also
insists his kids go to school, which far too many coaches don't do. He is
a stickler for discipline and respect. These are all highly admirable qualities.

But how different would his life be if he could actually extend these
qualities to others, and, in some cases, to himself? We're not suggesting
that he turn into a creampuff. But what if the compassion he feels for the
sick was also felt for the players who leave feeling betrayed? What if he
himself had the self-discipline he calls for from his players? What if he
could accept a chain of command and subordinate himself to the other teams to
which he belongs? What if he showed some of the selflessness he so
properly demands on the court? What if, in short, he lived up to the standards
he demands of everyone else? Bob Knight in many ways is an amazing man and
a compelling figure. But he still has to live by the rules the rest of us

As for Indiana's players, who are all muttering about leaving IU "with
no team" if they don't get their way, we can only say: get over yourselves.
Indiana will suffer for a year or two if you leave. But this notion that Indiana
basketball cannot continue without Bob Knight is just, frankly, pathetic, and
the idea that you will wreck it is just as pathetic. You're frankly not that
important. The state of Indiana has one of the most remarkable basketball
traditions in the world. It is in their blood like no where else in this
country. IU is only the most visible level of the passion Indiana has for
this game. Knight is gone. If every single player leaves, it is still a
beautiful tradition, and it will lure an excellent coach. He will recruit
players to replace the ones who bail, and in a few years, when the departed
players are talked about, it will be with scorn. Indiana basketball is a
magnificent obsession, and if you don't want to be part of it, there are dozens
up dozens who will step up and take your position.

Finally, a few closing thoughts:

A few people still don't understand this, notably a writer from Nando, who
keeps writing whacked
out articles about Bob Knight,
manhood, and so on, with the basic contention
being that a little abuse will make you stronger. It might work for the
Marines, but it's been awhile since we've seen 6-10 power forwards lobbing
grenades at the enemy. Well, outside of Fresno maybe. Paul Ensslin is
launching his own grenades from the fantasy world of a newsroom. In his latest
article, he commits hit-and-run journalism as far as we're concerned.
Let's look at some of it:

  • As for Brand? Well, he's committed himself to the notion that a coach's personality and conduct are more important than integrity, graduation rates and victory. And unfortunately for Brand, he won't be able to change his mind about that should the new era of Hoosiers basketball not go so well in certain areas.
    People with integrity do not throw pots at little old ladies and do not
    smear departed players, as alleged by the trustee on the Fabulous Sports
  • Furthermore, what adds to the foul odor of this whole situation is that Brand probably had no intention of firing Knight until last Thursday's confrontation between Knight and a disrespectful IU freshman was made public. It appears that Brand fired Knight only as knee-jerk reaction to potential bad press.
    It's clear to us, having seen a few battles in academia, that if anything,
    Brand was just waiting for the catalyst. We were skeptical before, but
    his comments now about giving Knight one last chance to be ethical rings
    more true today than it did a few months ago when it seemed like a cop-out.
  • For his part, Knight was in a no-win situation and should have seen the writing on the wall. Under the "No Tolerance" policy, those out to get Knight were going to get him. A common criticism of Knight was that his alleged pattern of inappropriate behavior stemmed from a lack of respect for his players and others. But as soon as some freshman shows Knight a lack of respect, Knight's illustrious IU career is over.
    As Brand said, there was much more than the confrontation at Assembly
    Hall, and as we discussed above, this proceeded in absolute classic fashion
    by the rules of academia.
  • Knight walks away from his job as Buford Pusser in "Walking Tall." As for Brand, who saw hundreds of student protestors gather outside his house Sunday night and a sign that read: 'Burn in Hell, Brand," perhaps Knight wasn't his biggest problem after all.
    As far as we can tell, this is an implicit endorsement of what might
    as well be a lynch mob. The implication is Brand caused this whole
    problem and will have to pay for it, with violence if necessary, and if it
    happens it's his own damn fault. His previous article deserved
    contempt and got it (from us at any rate), and his most recent one, with the
    unspoken suggestion that if Brand gets violence he deserves it, should get
    him fired. It's a disgrace.

What then, of Indiana basketball? Well, we'd like to suggest something
terribly radical might happen: the players might have fun. Indiana under
Knight played beautiful basketball. If you are a purist, you might like
Princeton better, or might have some bent towards the UNC system, but it's hard
to find a more sound team than a Knight team. But when was the last time
you saw smiles on that team? What you usually see are grimaces, and nervous
looks at the bench. In this state, of all states, where basketball is more
or less a civic religion, it seems to us that the highest hoops church of all
should be, well, closer to to a Pentecostal explosion of joy than a solemn
Catholic mass (please don't write us letters about religion. We're only
comparing the emotion). When you get down to it, basketball is a joyous
game. We're not suggesting that a mere charismatic is the answer to IU's
problems, but imagine if you will Indiana basketball without fear. Imagine
the Midwestern talents who might be interested who have gone elsewhere: Raef La
Frentz. Eric Montross. Jawad Williams. David Lee. Ricky
Paulding. Morris Peterson. Zach Randolph. Shane Battier.

Well, scratch that last one. But you get the point. Once IU fans
get their noses back in joint - and they will, because this game is theirs and
they love it, and once they realize they'll have a lot of great coaches to
choose from, they'll see that not only are their players more alive and
vibrant, but that the restrictions which Knight's personality and reputation
threw across the program will be gone and kids from all over will want to play
for Indiana, as they once did. Today they can't see that because the
emotions are too raw, but we see it clear as day: Indiana will, very soon, be a
huge force in recruiting.

Finally, what does Knight do? His current campaign of vindictiveness is
severely harming his odds of getting another significant job. Our guess is
that Brian Ellerbee is not long for this coaching world, and the Wisconsin coach
very nearly left after last season. If he does wish to coach again, he
should keep his mouth shut and lay the groundwork now. As it is, he continues to
sabotage himself. On another level, our advice to Knight would be this:
take it on the road for a year. Go teach basketball to the Navajo. Give clinics
in Alaska, Nigeria, Romania - wherever. Take time and look at the lives of
poor people and try to make a difference. This will gain some perspective,
and could be the best year of your life. You've already blown it once.
Take your time off and try to get it back in gear. And most of all, take
Dick Vitale's advice. Do it quietly, and out of the public eye, but for God's
sake get a grip on your anger and come back and show us all the brilliance which
has dazzled us over the years. But please, listen to everyone who is
telling you it's time to change. It is, and you can do it, but only if you are
as honest with yourself as you like to say you are with everyone else.