Scott Cavanagh
Freelance Writing, Editing and Photography

Knight's Survival Sends Wrong Message

Reprinted from Columbus Wired

May 19, 2000
By Scott Cavanagh 

Bob Knight said he was sorry. Well, kind of.

In a statement released just prior to the press conference announcing the findings of a seven-week probe into his misconduct as basketball coach of the University of Indiana, the 59-year-old Knight gave anyone willing to look closely another quick glimpse into his reality-- the World of Knight.

"There are times when my passion for basketball led me into confrontations that I could have handled a lot better," Knight said. "I've always been too confrontational, especially when I know I'm right."

During which of the incidents in question was Knight right?

Was he right when he assaulted a police officer in Puerto Rico 21 years ago? Or was he correct when he flung a glass vase in the direction of a 64-year-old secretary who didn't answer "The General" properly? I know, he must have been in the right when he knocked his Sports Information Director unconscious over a press release.

If you live in the World of Knight, the answer is affirmative to all of the above. In Knight's world all unacceptable and boorish behavior can be written off to some ridiculous code of tough guy ethics-- a book of rules written and edited by Knight to justify his all-too-frequent meltdowns.

Did he defecate on some toilet paper and show it to his players at halftime of a game? Well, he's not sure. He might have though-- he uses a lot of different methods to "motivate" kids. Did he choke Neil Reed? Well, not sure again. The coach says he often moves players around to different spots on the floor and could have touched a player's neck.

Some journalists, particularly basketball writers, have defended Knight's explanations by agreeing with his "training methods" excuse: he's simply shaping them into better people. They buy Knight's alibi on what his contact with Reed consisted of. I don't.

Knight hides behind this "old time coach in a new era" garbage every time he needs to avoid responsibility for his actions. As talk show host Jim Rome so aptly observed on his nationally syndicated radio program last week: "What was Knight doing when he assaulted a grandmother and 30-year employee of the University? Was he 'molding' her into a better secretary?"

And what exactly was Knight doing storming up to 20-year old college student Neil Reed and choking him in front of his teammates and coaching staff? Oh, I forgot-- Knight didn't do that. At least that's what he claimed before a videotape proved him a liar and a thug.

No matter how you analyze and dissect it, the coach's explanation of the Reed incident should be unacceptable to anyone capable of placing the welfare of the IU basketball program second behind the health and welfare of IU students. He either choked Reed or he didn't. The videotape has already answered that one for us. If his explanation now is that he doesn't remember- that's even worse, because grabbing a player by his windpipe ought to stick in a coach's mind.

Was he coaching Neil Reed? Was he motivating him? I say he was assaulting him. Not only physically, but also in the method Knight employs most often- psychological assault. Knight was emasculating Reed. Belittling him in front of his peers and making certain this kid knew who was boss.

But Reed, and everyone else at IU had no doubt who was in charge in Bloomington. Certainly there is no question now. Not after the 30 lashes with a wet noodle Knight was forced to endure as a consequence of his three-decade temper tantrum.

A zero-tolerance policy? Anger management classes? If it wasn't so pathetic it would comical. Can you just picture the scene? Bobby Knight being taught some Buddhist breathing technique by a couple of politically correct part-time faculty members at the local community college? Someone should make a commercial out of it. Someone will. The proceeds will benefit Bobby Knight, as usual.

Two similar situations come to mind every time I consider Knight's most recent battle. One is Latrell Sprewell's 1998 attack on his then-head coach P.J. Carlesimo. In a shooting slump, during a 1-9 home stand, Sprewell choked the volatile coach after a heated exchange in practice. The result of the attack, which the player admitted to and apologized for, was his unconditional release by the Golden State Warriors, and the forfeiture of millions of dollars in earnings. The league then added its own measures, banning the shooting guard for a full-year before being forced to reduce the penalty by an appeals court ruling. Was Sprewell's punishment too harsh? Most people said no, while some even called for a lifetime ban.

How was Knight's attack different from Sprewell's? For one thing, P.J. Carlesimo and Latrell Sprewell are professionals, inhabiting a world full of million-dollar crybabies with giant egos and bigger contracts, where the dog-eat-dog philosophy is more prevalent than in Hollywood. Carlesimo knew what he was getting into when he left Seton Hall to coach at Golden State; Neil Reed was a college kid.

And what about Sprewell? His crime was more physical than Knight's was, that's for sure. But what was his track record before and after the incident? Did he admit to his actions? Yes. Had he shown a propensity for this behavior in the past? No. Had he ever raised a hand, or even his voice to other Warriors employees? No. It didn't matter to the league, his crime warranted swift and immediate punishment. Period.

Did Knight have a clean track record before the Reed fiasco? Of course not, but you would never have known it by his university discipline folder, which, until this probe, contained no record of the coach's verbal and physical attacks on university students or personnel. Not even a mention of the attack on the SID, which like the Reed incident should have been settled in criminal court instead of the court of public opinion.

That brings us to the second comparison involving Knight's favorite quote machine, legendary World War II General George Patton. Patton was a man who liked to get things done his way, regardless of the outcome. Often he crossed the line. When he crossed that line far enough to slap a soldier suffering from battle fatigue in an Army hospital, General Dwight D. Eisenhower seriously reprimanded him. Patton was forced to issue an immediate and full apology to his troops and the American people. When he stepped out of line verbally two years later, he was relieved of his command.

Did the General have some justification for striking a crying, uninjured soldier as he watched wounded men fight for their lives in the same hospital ward? Patton thought so. Eisenhower knew differently. He knew a slap would not produce a better soldier. IU officials should know choking does not produce better basketball players.

Bob Knight choked Neil Reed. He had no justification whatsoever. When confronted, he lied about the incident. He should have been fired.

Scott Cavanagh is News Director and Managing Editor of Columbus Wired.

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