Unfairly this time, Knight takes it on the chin

November 15, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Let's get one thing straight right off the top. I don't like Bob Knight one bit, and it wouldn't bother me a whole lot if he announced his retirement from college basketball and entered the senior division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The guy is a bully and a dinosaur, which has kept him from being fully recognized as one of the greatest basketball coaches in history; and he is unrepentant, which makes it even easier to focus on all that makes him so dislikable.

That's why you could find a Bob Knight historical highlight reel playing regularly on every cable sports channel yesterday, though the incident that showered all this unwanted attention on the Texas Tech basketball program would have passed right under the SportsCenter radar if it had involved any other coach.

Knight is back on the hot seat because he jerked sophomore forward Michael Prince's chin up while he was exhorting him on the sideline during Monday night's game between the Red Raiders and Gardner-Webb. It was a rough little tap that immediately spawned comparisons with Knight's famous choking incident at Indiana, but it was blown so out of proportion that Prince had to make a statement in defense of his volatile coach, saying Knight was just trying to get him to keep his head up.

Perspective is pretty tough to come by when you've got to fill 24 hours of airtime and all that broadband capacity. The sexiest sports story of the day, sometimes regardless of its actual importance, gets played and replayed, then related and debated by everyone from Stuart Scott (no boo-yah for you, Bobby) to your friendly neighborhood self-righteous newspaper columnist. Please accept my apologies.

Knight is a lout. If this were a court case, the prosecution and defense would stipulate that and recess for lunch. Everybody knows he's not a nice guy and everybody knows his checkered history. Frankly, if ESPN shows him throwing that chair one more time, I may actually switch over to the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and watch one of the local radio shows.

(Though now that I think about it, the ad nauseam replays of the chair throwing and choking incidents were preferable to ESPN's literally ad nauseam extended close-up of Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith throwing up into a trash can on Monday Night Football.)

I've got no problem with the sports media holding Knight to a minimum standard of acceptable behavior, but it's hard for me to get too excited about a basketball player getting chucked under the chin when everyone on the Texas Tech football team risks a spinal cord injury every Saturday for the economic benefit of the university.

Open question: Who is hurting his players more, the guy who pushes them around on the basketball court or the ones who don't care about their graduation rates?

Knight, for all his negatives, makes his players go to class and sends them off into the world better prepared for real life than a lot of his better-behaved peers. When I say all the attention paid to this incident is much ado about nothing, a Knight student-athlete has a lot better chance of recognizing the Shakespearean roots of that cliche than many of his fellow Division I players around the country.

That's not an excuse to physically or psychologically abuse the young men in his charge, but it is reason to keep incidents like the one Monday from being magnified beyond any reasonable ethical dimension. Prince and his parents stepped up to say Knight's behavior did not cross the line, and who better to make that judgment than the supposedly wronged party?

It should come as no surprise that Knight was defiant when he finally addressed the issue yesterday.

"I'm sure there were some cases where I have been wrong, but [Monday night] wasn't one of them," Knight told ESPN. "I was trying to help a kid, and I think I did. If I was confronted with the same set of circumstances, I would do the exact same thing."

Major college basketball is an emotion-charged business, and it is not unusual for a coach to get in the face of a player during a game. Knight has gone way past appropriate on a number of occasions during a career that has placed him just eight wins away from Dean Smith's all-time men's collegiate record, which has earned him extra scrutiny on the sideline.

That's fine, but with that extra scrutiny comes the responsibility to weigh each incident fairly. If any one of the other top college coaches had done exactly the same thing in exactly the same context, it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Obviously, Knight should be smart enough by now to keep his hands to himself, but let's try not to get carried away.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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