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.