By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) One is a Chicago native who’s now a living legend, and the other is a prominent Chicago high school coach. Both acted over the weekend in ways that undermined their positions as leaders of young men.
This is the very time of year that we hear basketball coaches cloaking themselves in the garb of academia – invoking their roles as educators first, even as cameras show them screaming obscenities at officials during some stomping sideline tantrum. But it’s all for a larger purpose, right, Mike Krzyzewski?
“I always wanted to teach,” he told the Academy of Achievement back in 1997. “My ambition in high school was to be a high school coach and teacher, and that’s still what I do: teach.”
When asked later was was most important about college basketball, he said, “Ethics and empathy.”
All of that motivation and concern was on display over the past few days, after Krzyzewski’s Duke team lost to Oregon on Thursday. He was displeased that Oregon’s Dillon Brooks attempted and made a long 3-point shot as time expired, even though his own coach was calling for him to do so. Krzyzewski scolded Brooks in the postgame handshake line, with Brooks saying he was told he was “too good of a player to be showing off at the end.”
Krzyzewski denied this flatly, insisting, “I didn’t say that.”
Except he did, and it was seen and heard clearly on CBS video. Busted, Krzyzewski then issued a less-than-sincere apology.
“It is not my place to talk to another team’s player,” he said in a prepared statement, adding, “I reacted incorrectly to a reporter’s question about my comments to Dillon.”
There were two transgressions here, both the product of his nature as an ugly, sore loser. Top of mind for him was the violation of sports protocol – the coaching of somebody else’s kid, acting on his assumption that his role as America’s coach allowed him that latitude. But more insidious is the lie – sorry, the “incorrect reaction” – which he supplied at the expense of a young player. Had the video evidenced not surfaced, the public would be swallowing Krzyzewski’s story that Brooks was a liar. His instinct was to impugn the reputation of a player to save his own, providing a telling glimpse into who he really is.
Meanwhile, from the same city that produced Krzyzewski came an unfortunate turn from Simeon coach Robert Smith. Two of his former players at Illinois, Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, were recently arrested separately on domestic battery charges for hitting women and subsequently suspended from all team activities pending the outcomes of the respective court cases.
Smith has no concern whatsoever for the alleged victims, dismissing them as lying gold-diggers.
“I told them you have to watch who you’re around because everybody doesn’t have their best interests in mind,” Smith told DNAInfo Chicago. “People look at athletes, and they think of money.”
Smith is a one-man playbook for how not to talk about domestic violence, both publicly and privately. That he was dumb enough to speak to a reporter about it in such terms was astonishing, as was the advice he admitted providing Tate and Nunn.
He said he told them both, “You know you didn’t do what you’re accused of doing.”
And with no regard whatsoever for the women involved, Smith voiced nothing but concern for the alleged perpetrators.
“I know they’re two great young men,” he said, according to DNAInfo. “It’s unfortunate, no matter what comes of it, because they are going to have to deal with this the rest of their careers.”
This, right here, is why victims don’t report incidents. This is why even after reporting, they often change their stories, drop charges or refuse to testify. This is the twisted sports domestic-violence culture laid bare.
And this is a public high school coach, somebody literally in charge of children.
It’s one thing for a smarmy megalomaniac like Krzyzewski to falsely accuse a college athlete of lying just to preserve his sainted public image, another entirely for one of Chicago’s most visible prep coaches to be so callously entrenched on the very wrong side of an important and increasingly scrutinized issue.
Ethics and empathy, indeed.