Enabling Bobby Knight

by Jim Longworth

Last week I watched in disbelief while Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight balled up his fist and cracked a player under the chin during a game. The impact was so severe that the boy’s head snapped back, and he was later seen on the bench, wincing and massaging his jaw.

This was not new behavior for Bully Bobby. After all, this is the same man who choked a player, kicked another and has thrown everything from chairs to salad bars.

Indiana tolerated Knight’s antics until he was no longer winning ball games, then feigned outrage at his assaults and fired him.

Not realizing that a leopard doesn’t change his spots, Texas Tech paid the ousted Knight a million per year to turn their program around. Knight has done just that, so it is not surprising that Tech, like Indiana before them, is engaged in shameless and hypocritical enabling.

Tech’s athletics director supported Knight’s action by stating that the coach simply “lifted” the player’s chin to get his attention. And the university was quick to tell reporters that the boy and his parents did not complain about the assault. Of course they didn’t complain. If they had, the boy would have been benched or kicked off the team.

Even worse is the sports media’s enabling of Knight’s dysfunctional behavior, sort of like the news media giving George Bush a free pass after 9-11 to invade the wrong country for the wrong reason and kill thousands of people.

I played team sports in school and I was very competitive. So were my coaches. We got yelled at, and we also got pats on the rump for encouragement. But no coach ever struck me. Last week, one sports reporter said that all college coaches hit players. That’s a lie. John Wooden never did. Dean Smith never did. And John Thompson, who towered over many of his players, never did. But now Bad Boy Bobby is in the hunt to pass Smith’s record of victories, and has his eye on the Hall of Fame. In my opinion, he should never be allowed that opportunity.

Texas Tech won’t do the right thing and fire Knight, so the NCAA should step in and bar him from coaching permanently. Students should have the expectation of receiving an education and participating in team sports without being assaulted. We don’t allow inappropriate touching by teachers, and we shouldn’t allow inappropriate hitting by coaches.

I fear that real reform will never happen in this win-at-all-cost society, so I can only hope that Knight will hit the wrong player at the wrong time, and that the player will respond in kind, sending Bully Bobby to the hospital with a broken jaw or bloodied nose. Unfortunately, bullies only respond to force. They never expect their victims to retaliate. But the law allows us the right of self-defense, so I’m calling on every player in every sport to defend himself appropriately. If we let bullies win, we enable them to perpetuate their behavior and, in Knight’s case, even get rewarded for it. Bobby Knight is a disgrace to higher education and competitive sports. But the bigger disgrace is if we as a society do nothing about it.

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY48 (cable channel 15).