- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

Bob Knight has been subjected to a national hit squad after grabbing a 19-year-old weasel last week. The outrage, the indignation and pot shots, however understandable in a sense, are incommensurate to the nickel-and-dime actions that led to Knight's departure at Indiana University.

Knight is a compelling figure, almost fascinating to a fault, a flawed genius who embodies a military-like code that is unacceptable to a number of would-be thinkers in the media. This dynamic within the drama contributes to the strident outpouring.

The antagonism between Knight and members of the national press is long-standing. Their clash is cultural, a difference in values.

Knight was the short-haired coach at West Point in the '60s. They were the longhairs who protested the Vietnam War, smoked reefer and made love.

Now the ex-longhairs hold real jobs, even prominent jobs in print, on television and in Hollywood, and their views permeate the so-called mainstream media outlets.

Knight is a guy's guy who at one time communicated with his body and understands and respects the power of the body. He is forever the ex-jock.

The ex-longhairs never reached that level of guydom. They exercised their brains, along with their college deferments, to ascend to a higher level of consciousness.

Even their commitment to free love came with a noble purpose. They weren't merely sleeping around. They were, literally, planting the seeds of make-believe love, and if all went well, the world was destined to be a warmer, more hospitable place. It was nonsense, of course, their motives comically transparent.

A guy's guy needs no contrived intellectual exercise to pursue a hot babe. It is what it is, and no high-minded explanations are necessary.

Trying to intellectualize a base function outside the boundaries of love is where President Clinton lost the support of guydom. He, too, did what he did, and however wrong it was, instead of conceding that he messed up and, well, things got out of control on certain occasions in the Oval Office, he made it worse with his parsing and rhetorical devices.

Knight makes no effort to hide his contempt for the free-love generation and those who subscribe to its articles of faith.

In his eyes, many of his inquisitors have no concept of his undertaking, not of the game itself, but of the self-discipline and sacrifice required, the prodding of a body to exceed its limits. It's not necessarily pretty, and America usually prefers not to know the details. America is accustomed to watching its sports stars through the sanitizing lens of television.

The struggle between mind and body, between coach and athlete, is waged in countless gyms and on countless fields across America. One of Knight's mistakes was to display his boorishness for all to see. His list of transgressions, however entertaining, however permanently etched in the media's mind, hardly merits the gotcha sentiment.

Sources that incite are out there, in college sports, if anyone bothers to look.

Coincidentally, amid the Knight fallout, the University of Minnesota decided this week to sue former basketball coach Clem Haskins in an attempt to recover its $1.5 million contract buyout from him.

Haskins only presided over one of the worst academic fraud scandals ever in college athletics. He only paid a tutor to complete more than 400 research papers and tests for about 20 of his players over a six-season period. He only encouraged his players to mislead investigators. He only led the Gophers to the Final Four in 1997, sticking yet another hole in the weepy story lines peddled each March.

Yet the outcry, beyond the Twin Cities, was mostly absent when the scandal hit the fan, and still is, the reaction subdued.

So Haskins sold the integrity of an institution for a few wins. Others do it, too. The system is broken, most agree, and reform measures are merely cosmetic, intended only to keep the gravy train in operating order.

In this upside-down environment, Haskins only confirms what everyone already knows and accepts, while Knight is the ill-mannered bully who must be stopped, crushed and then dissected.

As a guy's guy, Knight grabbed the disrespectful source before him, as guys do, and not just in Bloomington, Ind. You can stop by any gym and see guys grabbing for the respect they so desperately covet. The low-grade physical contact usually results in a higher understanding of sorts between the two parties.

The slope is slippery, certainly, and two guys butting heads inevitably depend on cooler heads to break it up. This ritualized form of communication is imbedded in the sports culture, often precipitated by a hard foul or errant pitch or late hit.

Knight is old enough to know better, which is a recurring theme during his storied professional life. Zoo-goers are implored not to feed the animals, and Knight was hopelessly guilty in this regard.

Not surprisingly, the public and private selves of Knight are so at odds. His closest friends attest to his humanity, mostly because they see the person not at war with the game and the media.

They have a name in this psycho-drama, too. They are the enablers, guilty by association.

As they see it, the Knight temper is both real and exaggerated, and really, if you're going to cast stones, who hasn't blown a gasket at times? Who hasn't slammed a telephone down in disgust or uttered inappropriate language to a motorist or, yes, even grabbed someone when the testosterone was pushing through the pores?

Guy to guy, civility is sometimes overrated. Most guys don't necessarily grow out of it. They just get older, softer around the middle and all too aware of their physical limitations.

Knight is getting old himself, approaching 60. But to borrow a term from the '60s, he is what you might call a conscientious objector around Father Time.

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