It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sports fanatic or are clueless about what March Madness is.
This year’s Final Four gave us all a courtside seat into some of America’s biggest problems — and, more disturbing, how we so conveniently brush them under the rug, where they simmer until the next explosion.
Nowhere was that more on display than the semifinal game where Wisconsin destroyed not just Kentucky’s perfect season, but its shot at immortality. The Wildcats, with seven players likely jumping to the NBA, were widely expected to become the first team to finish 40-0, but the Badgers were better that night, and it was they who advanced to the Championship game. Here is a snapshot of "lessons" learned:
1.) Lesson No. 1: Racial inconsistency still reigns supreme. At the postgame news conference, star Kentucky player Andrew Harrison (who is black) muttered an obscenity and racial slur (the N-word) about Wisconsin player Frank Kaminsky (who is white). The response? Apologists put on a full-court press, from Harrison saying it was in "jest," to Kentucky Coach John Calipari and many others brushing it off as simply a stupid, nonracial comment made by a "young kid" after a tough loss.
You make a mistake? Fine. We’re all human, and we all say things we don’t mean. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences.
Is Harrison racist? Let’s hope not. But it was way too premature for so many who didn’t even know him to immediately jump to his defense, saying it was "dumb but not racist." We should give Harrison the benefit of the doubt, but at the least, he should face some discipline from both the university and Calipari, which Calipari refused. The unfortunate lesson for the millennial generation — already devoid of values and accountability — is that it’s OK to say whatever you want, as long as you "apologize," which will make everything right again.
Except that A.) that’s not true, and B.) there is a huge double standard here. As some in the mainstream media are finally pointing out, had the situation been reversed — a white player saying the exact same thing, offering the exact same apology, with the exact same justification — the backlash would have been mammoth. There would have been apologies heaped upon apologies, the school and team would have been picketed, there would almost certainly have been calls to revoke that player’s scholarship and expel him, and to immediately fire the coach for fostering a racist atmosphere.
That’s not speculation as much as fact, given that students have recently been expelled and suspended from numerous universities for racial issues, including Bucknell University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of South Carolina, and Bloomsburg University, where a baseball player was kicked off the team for making a slur about Mo’ne Davis.
So, to allow Harrison to get off scot-free — excusing his words with no repercussions at all — because of his status as a basketball player, skin color, or both, is patently unacceptable. That inconsistency sets race relations even further back, and increases the resentment felt by so many, of all colors, because of different rules for different people.
Kaminsky should be commended for taking the high road, gracefully burying the hatchet. After Harrison called him, Kaminsky announced the issue was over and that it was time to move on. His appropriate response is a far cry from the many who demand extreme actions against people whom they feel "offended" them, even after receiving profuse apologies, such as when protesters incessantly called for comedian Jimmy Kimmel to be fired after his harmless skit about China.
The lesson we should be teaching is equal treatment for all, special privilege for none.
2.) Lesson No. 2: Age is an acceptable excuse. Many gave Harrison a free pass because he was young. First, he’s not a "kid," he’s 20 — old enough to fight and die for his country, drive a car, vote and hold a full-time job. So under that rationale, should we excuse 20-year-olds for underage drinking? Using drugs? Killing someone while driving because of recklessness or intoxication? And should we make exceptions if that person happens to have lost a big game, broke up with a girlfriend, bombed a college exam or got fired? When is the magical age that people suddenly have to start acting responsibly, and being accountable for their words and actions?
Conversely, it is OK to slam the hammer down on people simply because they are older and wealthier? Former Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling, after saying inappropriate things privately (and recorded illegally), and who didn’t say the N-word, was forced to sell his beloved team, and will forever be reviled around the world for being a "racist," yet it’s no big deal if others say similar things, but are younger and not as accomplished. Sterling is anything but a model citizen ("scumbag" was this columnist’s description), and he isn’t a likable guy, but he unquestionably got a raw deal, especially in light of racially charged statements others have made with nary a peep or objection.
Again, it’s all about consistency.
3.) Lesson No. 3: Sportsmanship is so passé. Kentucky was shooting for its place not just among, but atop, the elite teams in college basketball history. To lose when that perfection was almost in their grasp must have been absolutely devastating.
But that in no way excuses numerous Kentucky players — some of their best — walking off the court without shaking hands with Wisconsin players. It was the epitome on no class, and once again, Calipari came up woefully short. The coach was on the world stage, and, had he come out forcefully against his players’ bad behavior, calling them on the carpet for their most decidedly unsportsmanlike conduct, he would have been revered not just as a great coach, but a stand-up leader and role model.
But he didn’t, and showed his true colors as a guy who talks the talk about being a mentor and teacher, but who doesn’t have the guts when it matters most — to walk the walk. Hey Coach: Loyalty above all, except honor. Learn it.
What goes around, comes around. So it is very fitting that, in the end, the Wildcats (Kentucky who?) are blue with disappointment, while the others in blue, the epitome of class — Duke’s Blue Devils — takes home the trophy.
In the game of life, that’s the most valuable lesson of all.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected].