If Bob Knight didn't exist it would be necessary to invent him as a commentariat jobs program.
Knight does something crazy and we spring to our tasks. ESPN puts the greatest hits into heavy rotation, the bullwhip and the chair throw, the head-butt and throat-grab, the "kiss my ass" speech, the "game face," the "relax and enjoy it" interview.
The machinery wheezed into motion this week when Knight chucked one of his Texas Tech players, Michael Prince, under the chin to get his attention during a timeout Monday.
I didn't feel like playing along this time. But now I've seen the video of a peewee football coach attacking an 18-year-old referee and knocking him unconscious at a game in Texas. The referee had ejected the coach for nonstop cursing at his players. Who are 5 and 6 years old.
I can't help wondering if there's a connection.
Zing! Fifty e-mails just got sent to me. Lemme just rebut 'em all real quick. 'Scuse me.
I didn't just blame Bob Knight for some emotionally stunted lunatic in Corpus Christi working out his inadequacies on a bunch of kindergartners and a teenager. Thank you.
I still think there might be a connection, though.
I hadn't felt like writing about Knight because I have Knight fatigue. I've said my piece.
You know what you're getting when you hire him or go to play for him. He'll bully whoever he can, not just players but also secretaries and assistant coaches and reporters and lippy students and compliant administrators, anybody he feels he has the drop on. Most of those people don't sign up for that kind of treatment, but the players certainly do.
Any baller who complains about his treatment by Knight has nobody but himself to blame. Anyone good enough to even sit on the bench at a Big XII school like Texas Tech or a Big Ten school like Knight's former see-no-evil employer, Indiana, has plenty of options to play elsewhere. Coach Knight's methods were not a secret when today's fifth-year seniors were watching the Smurfs. Caveat athleta.
But here's the thing. There are more enablers out here than Texas Tech athletic director and Knight lapdog Gerald Myers, who said Knight did nothing wrong. There are all the insiders, the former coaches and players who have filled the airwaves this week saying this sort of thing goes on all the time, nothing to see here folks.
There are Prince and his parents, who all said the incident was no big deal, which it's their right to believe and say but if the kid didn't feel that way, would he speak up?
And then there's the rest of us, who just shrug our shoulders. Knight being Knight. Seen it. Talked about it. TiVo'd "Pardon the Interruption" about it.
Just because Bob Knight is Bob Knight, and he's been this way for so long, his behavior is accepted. Criticized, but also defended. A lot. Accepted. And while that doesn't create the world in which a coach of 5-year-old football players feels free to berate the referee, it contributes in a small way.
We can talk about that coach or we can talk about any of the other hundreds or thousands of out-of-control coaches and parents we've all seen at youth sports events. They're not all psychopaths. At least some of them are able to control themselves sometimes, just as Bob Knight does.
I daresay Knight never talked to his mother, his minister or his coaches the way he talks to players, referees and reporters. He decides when it's appropriate to get medieval on someone.
And all over the country, people are picking up cues from him and guys like him that that's how you do it, that's how you coach. And they're picking up cues from those of us in the commentariat that while the details might be debatable, the methods are OK.
I remember being 10 years old and playing right field for the Giants at North Venice Little League and thinking how much Mr. Valdez, the coach of the Pirates, looked like Earl Weaver when he argued with the umps. Was that a coincidence?
It wasn't just Knight fatigue that kept me from writing about him. I hadn't seen the video Monday night and I was misled by print-media reports that described the incident the way I did a few paragraphs ago.
I pictured Knight's uppercut to Prince's jaw as a gentle sort of thing -- silly me -- maybe not quite Rick lifting Ilsa's chin to say, "Here's looking at you, kid," but not exactly Tyson putting away Spinks either.
Knight lifted Prince's jaw. Flipped it. Pulled it up.
I've seen the video by now and so have you. He popped the kid on the chin. Punched him. With a relaxed hand, but it was a punch. Seen from behind, Prince's head snapping up looked exactly like a boxer's after he's been hit with an uppercut.
Prince is a big boy -- 6-7, 205 pounds -- and it wasn't exactly a haymaker. But the cameras caught him on the bench working his jaw around. Funny thing, he looked a little like Knight when he was making fun of the phrase "game face" years ago. But what he really looked like was a guy who just got punched in the jaw.
Put it this way. I know there was no real Ilsa and she didn't really get on any plane in Casablanca. But if she had, I don't think she'd have spent the flight trying to work the kinks out of her jaw after Rick's lifting of her chin.
Bob Knight punched his player.
I screwed up by letting him get away with it in this tiny little corner of the commentary world. Sure, it's a minor incident. Knight didn't really hurt the kid. But he's Bob Knight. Give him time.
That's what we're all doing. We're giving him time. And by doing so, we're giving permission to some messed-up loser to lay in to a bunch of kids who just wanted to have a little fun and play a little ball.
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