Skip to main content
Original Issue


Callous Disregard

Bob Knight can be forgiven; his insensitivity can't

Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight's pretending to lash Hoosier forward Calbert Cheaney with a bullwhip was bad. Knight's arrogant dismissal of complaints by those who were offended by his act, which was depicted in a photo that ran in the March 26 Albuquerque Journal, was worse.

Knight is a student of history; he even has a bachelor's degree in the subject from Ohio State. He must be aware that a bull-whip used on a black person—even playfully—is a painful reminder of slavery. "It evokes images of the times when white men used to use a whip to keep black men and women in line," said Alice Hoppes, president of the Albuquerque branch of the NAACP. "Those are images we would like to forget."

Whatever his flaws, Knight deserves better than to be branded a racist. To do so would ignore the respect and affection between him and most of his black players, past and present. Former Indiana guard Quinn Buckner, who is black, has referred to Knight as a second father, and Cheaney rushed to his coach's defense, pointing out that Knight also pretended to use the whip on at least one white Indiana player, forward Pat Graham. "It was no big deal," Cheaney said. "If I didn't think it was right, I wouldn't have done it."

Knight's sense of humor often drifts toward the crude or offensive, and making a joke in poor taste is forgivable. It might have been left at that had he acknowledged that reasonable people can disagree about what is objectionable. Instead, his response to the complaints of the Albuquerque NAACP and others was insensitive and arrogant.

"Don't even bother me with that——," Knight said. "What I need to apologize for is 18 black kids who have played four years for me with 15 having their degrees, with every black kid that's gone through his senior year with me having a really good job and being a very contributing member to society, for recruiting the first black kid at West Point. I guess those are the things I have to apologize for."

A number of people try to tell Knight that what he did hurt them, and they get sarcasm. They look for some acknowledgment that their feelings matter to him, and they get, "Don't even bother me with that——." Is that the lesson that Knight, the educator, wants his players to learn—that as long as someone thinks he's right, he doesn't need to consider the perspective or sensitivities of others?

At the end of Indiana's win over UCLA last Saturday, Knight was bent over on the sidelines when Cheaney came up behind him and playfully whacked him on the backside with a towel. Knight pretended not to notice, but he had to have noticed. Maybe he thought that this action would speak louder than words, or maybe he considers the whole thing a joke. It is difficult to determine what Knight is trying to say sometimes. But his comments would be more meaningful if only he were willing to listen.

Film Scores

Two new sports movies play pretty well

White Men Can't Jump and The Cutting Edge, two movies that opened last week, have more in common than just sports. Each features two winning lead characters, some very funny lines, a...lot...of...slow...motion and a predictable, climactic athletic feat. In the basketball movie it is, of course, a dunk. In the figure skating movie it is, of course, a Pamchenko (we'll get back to that).

White Men Can't Jump was written and directed by Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed Bull Durham, maybe the best sports movie ever. For the first 30 minutes this movie about two hustlers on the playground courts of Los Angeles holds out promise that it will be an even better picture than Bull Durham. White Men opens softly with an elderly trio called The Venice Beach Boys (one of whom is the great jazz singer Jon Hendricks) singing on the beach, introduces its ebony-and-ivory protagonists, Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and then delivers a hysterical crash course on woofing. But after that, despite the best efforts of Harrelson and Snipes and one memorable scene (we'll get to that, too), the plot of White Men goes into the four corners.

The Cutting Edge could just as easily have been titled White Men and Women Can Jump. Or at least the stand-ins for D.B. Sweeney, who plays hockey star Doug Dorsey, and Moira Kelly, who plays ice queen Kate Mosely, can. Even if they can't really skate, Sweeney and Kelly do well at the compulsory figures of the plot line, which can be summed up as boy meets girl, boy loses peripheral vision and girl loses medal at Calgary, boy gets discovered by Russian figure skating guru Anton Pamchenko (aha!), boy and girl become a pairs team. You always know where you're heading with The Cutting Edge. You're heading for this exchange:

"We're doing the Pamchenko!" says she.

"No, we're not. It's too dangerous," says he.

"We are if we want to win the gold," says she.

The best scene in either movie belongs not to a sport but to the game show Jeopardy! In White Men, Billy's girlfriend, Gloria (Rosie Perez), finally realizes her dream of appearing on the show. After being introduced as "a former disco queen from Brooklyn, New York," she stumbles over the SPORTS category, then whips through POPES, NATURAL DISASTERS and FOODS THAT BEGIN WITH Q to beat the other contestants, one of whom is a rocket scientist. The whole scene, complete with Alex Trebek, energizes the movie even more than the basketball does.

Keeping Jeopardy! in mind, the answer is: This movie genre took a giant Pamchenko forward last week. Be sure your response is in the form of a question.—STEVE WULF

Behind Bars

Mike Tyson goes to prison, but his lawyers appeal

Strange to say, last Thursday, the day he went to prison for rape, was not an altogether bleak one for Mike Tyson. For one thing, the six-year sentence that Superior Court Judge Patricia Gifford imposed on Tyson in Indianapolis was less than he had expected. For another, the prosecution's ablest lawyer, Greg Garrison, was no longer handling the case. And no sooner did Gifford pronounce sentence than Tyson's new attorney, Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile Harvard Law professor, launched an appeal process that may yet free the former heavyweight champion.

Tyson's lawyers had told him to be happy with a jail term of anything less than 10 years, and the boxer reacted with equanimity even after Gifford announced that he would have to begin his sentence immediately, rebuffing defense pleas that he be freed pending appeal.

Gifford imposed the sentence, which was well below the average she has meted out to others convicted of similar rapes, after listening to Tyson deliver a rambling 12-minute discourse. He told Gifford that the accuser, Desiree Washington, had lied about what happened in his hotel room last July 19 and that he had been "crucified" during the trial that ended on Feb. 10. It was not the script Tyson's lawyers had prepared, but his presentation apparently didn't hurt him. With good behavior Tyson could be out of jail in three years, when he will be 28 years old.

The effect of Garrison's exit from the case—he does not do appeals—was apparent the day after the sentencing, during a hearing to decide whether Tyson should be released on an appeal bond. Moments after prosecutor David Dreyer had told the court, "I know more about this case than anyone," appellate justice John Baker asked him if Gifford had held a hearing on whether three defense witnesses would be allowed to testify. "I do not know," Dreyer responded. "I was not in court that day." In fact, Gifford had held a hearing that lasted nearly an hour.

Dershowitz, who most recently fought a losing appeals battle for Leona Helmsley, may be in the right place this time. Gifford has been reversed five of the last 10 times her cases have been reviewed, and the prosecution now seems to be struggling.—LESTER MUNSON



IU assistant Norm Ellenberger held Cheaney while Knight cracked the whip.



Harrelson (left) may not be able to jump, but here he drives on Snipes.



After his sentencing, a handcuffed Tyson was led into a detention center.




Tony Perez, Cincinnati Reds coach, on wire-service reports that pitcher John Smiley was unhappy about his trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Minnesota Twins: "John Smiley is going to change his name to John Frowny."

Judgment Calls

[Thumb Up]To Notre Dame, for its auction this week that raised $30,000 for a scholarship in the names of Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp, two Irish swimmers who died in a bus crash on Jan. 24.

[Thumb Down]To the Walden (N.Y.) Rotary Club, for denying 11-year-old Katherine Byrne's application to enter its youth wrestling tournament. Katherine was the only girl to apply, and the club said that the competition was "for boys only."

A Team Player

Graham and Linda Cross of Walsall, England, are so devoted to the Manchester United football team that in 1976 they named their newborn son after its players. Last month 15-year-old Graham Alex Jimmy Stewart Gerry Brian Martin Steve Sammy Stuart Lou Gordon David Tommy Matt Cross scored all the goals in Frank S. Harrison School's 8-0 win over T.P. Rileys.

Replay 5 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

O.K., so we're not perfect. Cleveland Indians Cory Snyder (left) and Joe Carter appeared on the cover of our April 6, 1987, baseball preview, in which we picked the Indians to finish first in the American League East (they were last). But while we predicted that the Minnesota Twins would place fifth in the American League West, we did write that if their pitching turned around, they "could have more fun than most people expect." They did, winning the 1987 World Series.