National Commentary

Coach Huggins Breaks the Mold

bentonmugFollowing my column last week about issues surrounding big-time college basketball, it can’t be denied that the players for Duke and Butler provided one of the most entertaining NCAA championship games in history this week.

bentonmugFollowing my column last week about issues surrounding big-time college basketball, it can’t be denied that the players for Duke and Butler provided one of the most entertaining NCAA championship games in history this week.

If only Butler’s Gordon Hayward had made that last-second shot, the one that was airborne when the final buzzer sounded and bounced off the rim, the true storybook replica of the classic movie, “Hoosiers,” would have occurred.

But perhaps it is better, for that very reason, that it didn’t happen. America is already far too superstitious. A fairy tale outcome would have plunged the nation only deeper into an non-constructive dream land.

Given that, it bears stressing that big-time college hoops has been corrupted over the years into what we have now, an escapist, dollar-driven entertainment industry (in which everyone but the players is compensated). It has become far, far removed from being a character and skill-building augmentation of a well-rounded college education.

Packaged and regarded with the gravitas of war, professional and big-time college sports are nothing more than fantasy-fueling entertainment, no different than the exploits of Paris Hilton or “Hot Tub Time Machine” movie. If you think that there is a problem with how much time kids spend on video games, or glued to the tube, then the amount of time and attention that mostly adult males spend fixated on sports is a veritable national crisis.

Moreover, it’s all about men watching men, fat and athletically-inferior men watching well-built and physically-talented men. What is that really all about?

An explanation has to do with the brutal physical standards to which men are held in a militaristic, male chauvinist society, like ours. By vicariously living through the exploits of super-heroes on athletic fields and courts, common men reinforce their own relative inferiority, while reinforcing the prevailing value system.

One of the paradigms for this social model is the systematic withholding of affection among men, including between fathers and sons. As much as it is in the DNA of boys to seek the approval and affection of their fathers, or surrogate ones, it is endemic in our society for that affection to be short-circuited, and for boys to grow up internalizing their disappointment by passing it on to their own children.

In a militaristic society, it is held, there can be no real affection among men who may be sending one another to death on a battlefield.

So, amid last weekend’s NCAA Final Four celebration of such conditions, a total anomaly suddenly exploded onto television screens when West Virginia’s Coach Bob Huggins knelt down to within a quarter-inch of his star player’s face as the player writhed on the floor, having suffered an excruciatingly painful, potentially career-ending knee injury. As the cameras zoomed in, Huggins was comforting his star in a whispered tone, saying things as, the player reported later, “This does not end it for you. You can come back,” and, most poignantly, “I love you.”

The player soon stopped screaming in pain, and became calm as he was lifted to his feet and carried off the floor.

Women cried, and men, many recalling their own childhood disappointment, choked up watching this, and did in recounting it to others later.

This broke the mold for a hot minute, and briefly threatened to topple the entire edifice of what it is supposed to mean to be a man in our culture.

But in reality, Huggins exhibited what was held as exemplary years ago by the greatest men’s college basketball coach of all time, UCLA’s John Wooden. Wooden, now 99, led his teams to 10 NCAA titles. In a recent TV interview, he said love is “the most powerful thing there is” in his professional life.

“When you have players under your supervision, it’s up to you to make sure that they understand that you care for them as individuals,” he said. “As Alonzo Stagg said, he never had one he didn’t love. A lot of them he didn’t like, couldn’t respect. But he loved them all the same.”


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]

 

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