- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

Bob Knight is symptomatic of a system that lost its moral underpinnings a long time ago.

The system is permitted to exist only because society thinks it is pretty special when two groups of young men engage in athletic competition for their respective universities.

The competition, for some reason, is deemed incredibly important by a particular body of Americans, although it is hard to say exactly why that is.

Outside of the participants, no one's quality of life is genuinely improved by a team's victory.

Yet the breathlessness associated with the competition is staggering. Fandom laps it up. The hype, however artificial and out of proportion to the reality, bends everyone and manifests itself in a zillion ways.

In this cauldron of exaggerated consequence, the principals become susceptible to the exaggerations: the all-knowing egotist who, when he is not prowling the sidelines for a national television audience, writes love letters to 16-year-old youths; the players who strut and pose and remain distinct from the general student body; and the NCAA suits and hypemeisters who manufacture this contrived din of life-affirming excitement.

It is just a game, no better or worse in many ways than a pickup game on the playground, if the level of competition is relatively equal.

The college game, in its present billion-dollar form, is dependent on the hyperbole. It is inured to the excesses and indecencies. Its idea of reform is to form a committee that wrings its hands and exudes a liberal amount of piety.

Knight is merely a convenient symbol at the moment, and only a symbol because of his well-documented temper and uneasy relationship with the media. He is too easy. What started as a one-charge investigation before the Final Four has mushroomed into a plethora of charges and calls for his ouster as the basketball coach at Indiana University.

The secretary who told of Knight throwing a vase against a wall 12 years ago is especially touching.

Twelve years is a long time to be silent, given the terror of a vase smashing against the wall.

It is not nice to throw things in anger, and America would be the land of the mostly unemployed, this space included, if adolescent expressions of anger were grounds for dismissal.

The lack of context cuts both ways, of course. Knight is perceived to be a larger-than-life figure, which is one extreme. Now he is perceived to be an out-of-control dinosaur, which is the other.

Knight, it seems, can be as flawed as the next person, and his one claim to fame, a highly successful college basketball coach, is granted a meaning different from the highly successful convenience store operator.

There is no balance either way. He is a legend who is celebrated. He is a jerk who should be forced out. This is his world, and his world does not come in shades of gray. His is an either/or world. You win or lose. You are smart or dumb. You are praised or admonished.

The human condition is rarely that simple, but the 24-hour news cycle does not always function well around the complex. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. You are required to shout if you want to be heard.

They are shouting now, Knight's detractors are, drowning out his defenders who, on cue, in a moment of crisis, point to all his gracious acts over the years.

The script is familiar; the national tsk tsk must be recorded.

The outrage, like the game-day fervor, is excessive, hardly equivalent to the outrages that often merit only three paragraphs in the back of the morning newspapers.

The trustees at Indiana must provide a context along with their findings. Knight grabbing Neil Reed by the throat, as the videotape shows, is wrong. You can make the case that other examples of Knight's temper-induced actions are wrong, too, as many have done and as Knight has acknowledged in his public apology.

Do the egregious flaws supersede the impressive contributions?

That is the context. That is one question.

Another is: What is more disconcerting a coach who grabs a player by the throat or a morally obtuse system and sports-obsessed society that breed the excesses?

Knight is only the latest college coach to be on the national hot seat, and he has been there in the past.

Others are certain to follow.

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