Tomorrow night Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight goes out to break Dean Smith’s record for lifetime victories by an NCAA men’s basketball coach. Knight has been vilified for years by the press, and of course some of his behavior has certainly earned rebuke. However, as Michael Ledeen points out in National Review Online, the press tends to hold Knight to a higher standard than it sets for most coaches. For example, Ledeen notes,
Yes, he’s got a temper. I have never known a winning coach in any spot who did not have a terrible temper. A few years ago I went to the Final Four in Indianapolis and watched Wisconsin lose to Florida. The Wisconsin coach was named Bennett, and everybody loved him. At a certain point one of his players committed a stupid foul and he called timeout, walked onto the court, and let fly at this poor kid with a torrent of abuse that would have made Knight blush (which is saying something). We were sitting two rows down from the Arctic Circle, and we heard every epithet. But there was no mention of it in the press coverage, because the hunting pack had decided the guy was lovable.
That is a thoroughly correct observation, and I’ll add the "why" to it. The real reason the press go after Knight so aggressively is not his infamous actions such as chucking a player under the chin during a game or throwing a chair, unpleasant as those incidents may look on television.
The press will forgive even things such as that—consider the kind of rancid behavior we’ve seen on football and baseball fields that has been entirely forgotten by the press.
But what the media won’t forgive or forget is being exposed as ignorant. And that that is what Knight consistently does in his postgame press conferences and other public forums. Knight treats the press just as he does his players: when they do something stupid, he tells them so, in no uncertain terms.
His press conferences are often hilarious, as he takes ignorant writers to task for asking absurdly stupid questions.
Knight is the one sports figure who does this consistently, and he has paid the price in public scorn. Yet he doesn’t appear to mind at all. Here is a man who does what he thinks is right and doesn’t give a crud who thinks otherwise. That’s a very masculine way to act, and Knight makes no apologies for it. That’s another reason many in the press fear and dislike him: he’s not the type to worry about other people’s opinions and back down under fire. Instead, he fights back.
That’s what men do, and it’s something our modern mores find unacceptable. That’s a pity. We need more examples of fortitude like Bob Knight.
Congratulations to Coach Knight on tying the record for victories. I wish him continued success.