A big deal has been made by the media of comments by Kentucky player Andrew Harrison after losing to Wisconsin Saturday and then by Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan after losing in the final game yesterday to Duke. My aim in this post is to make them smaller deals.
Starting with Harrison. If you haven’t heard, in their post-loss press conference, a question was asked of another Kentucky player about the challenge posed by Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky, at which time Harrison was caught on a mike saying: “F….that N-word” (not exactly, but you get the picture).
That was an example of poor sportsmanship, just as when he and his brother and another Kentucky player or two went straight to the locker room without shaking hands. But it got such attention because he used the N-word, which is as we all know, radioactive.
Let’s put this in context. Not only did Kentucky just lose its chance to be arguably called the best college team of all time, it did so to a bunch of white boys, or at least predominantly so. To paraphrase the great Larry Byrd from years ago: This is a “black man’s game” and I’m just trying to fit in. True now more than ever. That multiplied the agony of defeat. How could this happen? Harrison wanted a target for his frustration and Frank the tank provided a big target.
And he used the N-word because that’s common trash talk in black urban settings. When you think about it, it’s odd for him to use it on a white guy. But what was he supposed to mutter: F ….that big, dumb Polock? I don’t think he knew quite what he was saying. He was still in a game frame of mind, disappointed as hell and muttering trash and it was caught on a mike.
OK, Harrison acted a pouty brat, but to lose the chance at eternal glory to a bunch of white boys? You think Harrison and his teammates are ever going to stop hearing about this, ever? Later Harrison called Kaminski and apologized and Frank accepted it and said it was not a big deal. I’ll take Frank’s word for it.
Moving on to Bo Ryan. He too was experiencing the agony of defeat when complaining about the refereeing, but his big misstatement was to use the term “rent-a-players” referring to the phenomenon of the most talented kids playing only one year and then going to the pros. They are also called “one and doners”, a term Ryan usually uses to suggest the difference between his program and other top ones, most notably Kentucky, but Duke employed that strategy this year, too, obviously with great success. The agony of defeat does not put one in a good mood, so Ryan used the more pejorative “rent-a-player” metaphor.
So what? It seems clear from previous interviews that he’d take a one-and-doner if that player would fit into his system, but that’s unlikely and Bo’s not going to shape his system around the one-and-doners, like Calipari does so brilliantly at Kentucky and Coach K as well at Duke. Ryan and his staff have been great at developing players, something that would have been more highly regarded years ago, but now not so much in our climate of winning is everything. At moments Bo probably feels a bit bitter about that, and when would that be more likely than just after losing a rare chance to be national champion? Doing it “the right way.”
So, once again the media makes big deals out of little ones. Surprise, surprise.
But I have to admit that is not all bad. In trying to develop my own opinion on the two media “events,” I ran across a thoughtful discussion on the nuances of race talk between a white sports show host and a black former football player.
I think it would be worth seven minutes of your time. You can check it out here.