OK. I have had more time to digest some of the commentary on the Bob Knight incident last night, and I’ve got to say, it’s driving me nuts.
I should note that a friend and I have been doing research on the relationship between people’s attitudes toward child rearing and their political outlooks. In some of our work, we’ve found that people’s attitudes toward corporal punishment better predict their voting preferences than their political ideologies. Why is this relevant? Well, given the general political leanings of the sports commentariat and the target demographic, I am not surprised that most have defended Knight and said, in effect, being physical with kids sometimes is not only acceptable sometimes, but necessary and warranted. That’s another conversation for another time, but as I mentioned this morning, it’s fascinating to me how much of today’s conversation has gone to the larger question of the proper way to raise children.
But, it’s not the belief that what Knight did was OK that is bothering me as much as it is the arguments being deployed on his behalf.
The arguments have fallen into two general categories:
1) Everyone’s doing it (or should be!)
Greenberg and Golic had a number of ex-coaches and players on this morning, including Fran Frischilla, who I mentioned earlier, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas and long-time Purdue coach Gene Keady.
Keady told Mike and Mike that what Knight did was no big deal and argued that “if parents would do that when kids are six, seven, eight years old, then coach Knight wouldn’t have to do that…”
Keady is certainly entitled to his opinion that what happened last night was no big deal, and the player and his parents both said they consider this to be a non-issue. But, Keady’s comment here is just dumb and insulting. I’ll repeat what I wrote this morning – there’s lots of evidence that physical discipline produces people who are more violent and otherwise screwed up. Greenie and Golic framed this all morning as an old-school vs. new-school argument (more on that below). And Greenie seemed to go out of his way to give Keady cover by continually referring to him as old school and commenting that we live in a different world nowadays (and, in the sports world, especially sports radio, that always means we live in a worse world). But, what is Keady saying? That because the kid looked down while he was being yelled at, he deserved to be popped in the chin? And, that the real failures here are Michael Prince’s parents, for producing a kid who Bob Knight had no choice but to pop in the chin? Keady, of course, doesn’t know the first thing about Prince’s upbringing, or about Prince’s parents. In other words, he’s just talking out of his ass here, but that’s OK because he’s “old school.”
Keady did acknowledge a few moments later that no coach hits a player by design:
“I don’t think a coach wants to put his hands physically on a player…it happens in the passions of the moment and the game…” and said, emphatically, before he went off the air “I don’t advocate anyone touching a kid when your coaching…”
If we tried to make Keady’s statements coherent, we’d conclude that while Keady thinks the “chin lift” was no big deal, the kid deserved it and that Knight really couldn’t help himself because kids like Prince didn’t get popped in the chin when they were younger.
More troubling though than Keady’s ramblings were the way they were used by Golic and Greenie throughout the show. When ex-player and current ESPN personality Doug Gottlieb came on the show and criticized Knight, Golic insisted that everyone they had had on that morning said this goes on all the time. But, that’s false. Keady was specifically asked whether this went on, and he said that while, for all he knew, worse things happen, he couldn’t say one way or the other. Fraschilla asserted that this will happen a hundred times or more in the next two months, but what’s he basing that on? We know this stuff never happens in games because, if it did, we’d see it broadcast, and given the prevalence of video cameras, and video phones, it’d likely get caught in practice, too. Gottlieb himself said that in all his years playing for Eddie Sutton (who’s as “old school” as Knight or Keady, he never saw Sutton lay a finger on a player, nor did he see John McLeod, who spent many years coaching on the college and pro level touch anyone.
And, Bilas himself, when asked directly about whether his former coach, Coach K, ever touched anyone, never directly answered the question.
In other words, while there was plenty of speculating about the prevalence of coaches physically handling their players, not a single person actually copped to experiencing or witnessing a single specific act. And, as an added data point here, Colin Cowherd this morning, in discussing the issue, noted that Pete Carroll has been adamant in telling his assistants that they should never touch a player, that there are always ways of getting your point across without physical contact.
And, since I can’t resist – tell me if you’ve ever heard of a single report, in their combined sixty plus years of coaching, and 20-something final fours between them, that John Wooden or Dean Smith was physical with their players. Is neither Wooden nor Smith sufficiently old school, respected, capable of producing good men or successful?
So much for its prevalence or indispensability.
2) the double standard
Throughout the day on ESPN radio, it was also widely argued that Knight was being subjected to an unfair double standard. Bilas told Cowherd that while the incident itself was no big deal, that there’s a double standard where Bob Knight is involved. When Gottlieb was on with Mike and Mike, Greenberg asked Gottlieb several times whether this would be a big deal if someone else had done it. And, Dan Patrick, arguing heatedly with his buddy Keith Olbermann also contended that this was only being blown up this way because it was Knight. The implication of all this – that this is unfair. That, as Bilas says, analysts should be looking “objectively” at the incident (Greenberg said that “incident” was too strong a word) and not at everything else we already know about Knight.
You know, just like when T.O. or Moss says something, the entire sports commentariat just evaluates the individual statements, and in no way judges the utterances in light of either man’s history.
Of course Knight is being judged in the light of his past. When someone engages in a bad or questionable act, since when is prior record not a relevant consideration.
Olbermann described Knight as suffering from a mental illness and told Patrick that Knight should be fired and banned from coaching. I don’t agree – I think that’s an over-reaction to what happened. But, the idea that we should judge this incident in a vacuum, or that Knight is really performing a great and valuable service to the community, something the old school understands and the new school doesn’t – those are bogus arguments.
Gottlieb argued this morning that Knight was a hypocrite because: “you can’t preach discipline, that everyone has to do things a certain way, and then you can’t control yourself.” He also asserted that Knight’s inability to control himself is “why he hasn’t won in twenty years, because the best players don’t want to put up with that anymore…”
If Knight is a great teacher, it’s not because he hits people, and plenty of great, or greater coaches have done just fine, then and now, without resort to such tactics. Watching folks today bend over backwards to defend him on such dubious grounds doesn’t change those realities.