How Should Sports Answer the Question That Calhoun Dismissed?

February 25, 2009

The question touched a raw nerve.  Some argue that it was out of line and out of place at a basketball press conference.  Others are stunned that a non-journalist, activist, law school student did the asking.  How dare he?  Still more wonder why UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun lost his cool and went ballistic.

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The question was essentially: Should Calhoun take a pay cut from his multi-million dollar salary as Connecticut’s highest paid government worker, while the state faces a huge budget shortfall during the nation’s worst economic crisis?

Calhoun, doing his best Bob Knight impersonation, answered by telling the “reporter”,  Ken Krayeske, to shut up, and then called him stupid.

A lot of folks in the sports world – including sports journalists – are blaming the messenger.   They say Ken Krayeske didn’t have the proper credentials and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.   Personally, I think that some reporters are angry that Krayeske showed them up, by asking a question they would never dare ask.  Calhoun argued that he brings in millions of dollars in revenue to the University of Connecticut, and won’t give “a dime back” from his salary.  And he has many supporters of this rationale, including journalists who wear the proper credentials.

So no, I don’t think the question is out of line at all.  And now that we’ve had a few days to see Calhoun’s response for ourselves and ponder even more, the reality of a what an economic downturn really means, the tide may be turning.  Yesterday, Connecticut’s governor called Calhoun’s nasty response to the question an “embarrassing display”.

The fact is Calhoun could have answered in a civil manner and acknowledged the seriousness of the times with respect and compassion.  After all Jim Calhoun is not being hurt by the economy, but many who support his team and pay for tickets and tuition are.  As a result he came off as arrogant and out-of-touch.

One thing for certain – the question will be asked again.  Maybe not to Calhoun, but to others in the sports universe.  Maybe it will be phrased like this: What are you willing to sacrifice while millions lose their jobs and others struggle to pay their mortgages?  How will those sports figures respond?  The global economic crisis now has Greg Norman suggesting that golfers take a cut in prize money.

Yes, sports are important, and they offer much needed diversions, escapes from sometimes harsh realities. Sports stars play a significant role in improving the quality of our lives.  But now its time for them to consider how they can do even more.   Sometimes more means taking less.


Frantic February

February 22, 2009

 

20087710932Frantic February is the time of year when college basketball teams start making their closing arguments for selection to the NCAA Tournament.  For sheer unpredictability, chaos, nail biting and whining there is nothing like the weeks leading up to March Madness.  

Every year it seems there is a surprising Cinderella.  The unexpected team from nowhere that makes a tantalizing trip through its conference, to the Sweet 16 and sometimes even the Final Four.   Each season a breakout star captures our imagination.  Sometimes its a guy with no shot at the NBA, but with everything it takes to lead his team to a college title.  Further you can count on several top coaches coyly downplaying their talented teams’ prospects, while we also hear others whine about an unfair selection process that kept their schools at home.  But that’s what makes this party great and this time of year incomparable.  

And its already beginning.  In the last week alone, number one U-Conn, which showcases pterodactyl-like center Hasheem Thabeet, gets manhandled by super aggressive Pittsburgh.   Oklahoma, which was poised to take over number one, gets knocked off by Texas when player of the year favorite Blake Griffin suffers a concussion.  And super talented number 3 ranked North Carolina, led by 3-time All America, Tyler Hansbrough is stunned by the over-achieving Terrapins from the University of Maryland.  This is a Maryland team that still might not make it to the NCAA tournament.  But at least now Maryland can make an argument.  That’s how it goes in February as the conference tournaments loom and March Madness beckons.  This is the point in the season when teams often make their most lasting impressions – for better and sometimes for worse.   

Let me close by making this admission – I’m an NBA guy.  I prefer the high quality, skilled basketball that the big boys in the “Association” play.   Still during the final weeks of February and the Madness of March – college basketball always earns my attention.  Unlike the NBA, everything is on the line each and every game.  And just one letdown means its over.  That’s what makes college basketball unique and Frantic February special.