by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MINNEAPOLIS — I have stopped listening to Bobby Knight.

I no longer attend his press conferences. I do not interview him. I had no interest in his insulting words these last few weeks of the NCAA basketball tournament. And I did not go to hear him after Indiana’s semifinal Saturday against Duke.

I see no point. My reason is simple: Why would anyone willingly enter a room when he knew he was about to have garbage dumped on his head?

Which is what dealing with Knight is all about, especially as a reporter. He has always been abusive, crude, rude and boorish. These past few weeks he has gotten worse. He has dissolved into a rambling, distracted, pitiful caricature: a man desperate to prove he is still the biggest chair in the room, and don’t you forget it.

He has created stories about making his players dig ditches. About making them take cold showers at halftime. He took a whip to practice and was photographed flicking it on a black player’s behind, then got indignant when someone asked whether that wasn’t a little foolish, given the possible racial implications. “Get out of here with that bleep!” he said, then proceeded to defend himself by boasting about the black players he helped graduate over the years.

A simple “sorry” would have sufficed. But there will be no apologies. Not from Bobby Knight.

This is a winning coach. A hero in Indiana. This is also a brute who abuses kids the way a drill sergeant abuses troops, a man who nearly 20 years ago threatened to throw a player off the plane without a parachute and hasn’t changed since. He has tossed a chair across the court, stuffed a fan in a garbage can and put a Tampon in the locker of a player he felt wasn’t being manly enough. He once warned an athlete who wished to attend church instead of a Sunday practice that, under Knight’s rule, it was basketball first, God second.

Gen. Robert Montgomery Knight

Here is what his press conferences are like: Knight sits on the podium, staring down into the sea of what he perceives as maggots. The very position is one he enjoys: higher than everybody, able to play Boss.

And he does. He likes it. I have watched him berate questioners until they wanted to shrivel and die. As early as a decade ago, he began a press conference by demanding that a certain writer from Sports Illustrated leave the room or he wouldn’t continue. Embarrassed and humiliated, the writer walked out, which no doubt reinforced Knight’s perverse sense of power. Now tell me. Why on earth should a writer give a man like that his time? To hear his brilliant explanation of a zone defense?

Sorry. I know people defend Knight. They harken him to Gen. Patton. What they fail to realize is this is not war. College doesn’t need Patton. Knight’s apologists say he wins games and makes sure most of his players graduate. (I often wonder how important they would consider the latter if he didn’t do the former.)

In any case, winning is no excuse for his behavior. Neither is graduating players. Eddie Robinson of Grambling, one of the kindest men on the planet, has been doing both for 40 years, with a fraction of Knight’s budget or national attention. Not once has Robinson called a reporter a “son of a bitch.” Not once has he stuffed a Tampon in a player’s locker.

No finishing touches

I would send my son to play for Robinson. I would have sent him to play for UCLA’s John Wooden, a man who won more national championships than Knight and was always a gentleman. It is worth noting that Wooden, who steadfastly refuses to badmouth another coach, refers to Knight as “a strange man.”

I would not send my son to play for Bobby Knight. I don’t care if he won four straight NCAA titles. People who consider Knight a good finishing school are most likely people who feel the Army is a good finishing school, too. They are entitled to their opinions. I feel if you do your job as a parent, your kids shouldn’t need finishing school.

In either case, I choose to ignore Knight now. It is the most effective way to deal with a bully. I am told that on Friday reporters were exiting in clusters during another of his rambling, self-indulgent speeches. I have this vision of Knight one day yakking on and on about his latest egotistical maneuver, and the whole room is empty.

It still wouldn’t stop him. Knight — who may be destined for a Woody Hayes-like ending — will never change. And all you can do is feel sympathy.

“I don’t have ill feelings towards the press,” Knight smirked recently, when asked why he was doing all this posturing. He paused for effect, then added,
“I do think a lot of you are sorry bastards.”

Right back at you, Bobby.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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