Thursday, April 13, 2000

Tape proof of IU's trail of lies




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The videotape is inconclusive. When Bobby Knight grabs Neil Reed by the throat, you can't really tell how much pressure he applies. You can't be absolutely sure whether Knight is trying to choke the player or calculate his collar size. (Watch the tape)

        You see Reed's head snap back, but you don't know if this is a physical reflex or an act of astonishment. There's no sound track to flesh out the scene. There are no close-ups to illuminate context or, for that matter, to verify that the player in question is really Reed.

        There is only the undeniable image of Knight, his right arm outstretched, shoving a player back across the time line at Assembly Hall with one hand around his windpipe.

        We don't know anything about the circumstances or the intent or whether Knight's fingers left a mark on Reed's throat. All we know is that the Indiana University basketball coach was way out of line during this particular 1997 practice session and that he and his Hoosier henchmen have been conducting a continuous disinformation campaign since Reed alleged the incident last month.

        Lies have been told to protect Knight. Distortions have been disseminated as fact. A coach who presumes to be the last bastion of integrity in college athletics has condoned and cooperated in an elaborate effort to discredit a player who was, in the main, telling the truth.

        If this isn't a firing offense, what is?

        “I saw the tape and I was astounded but not surprised,” said Murray Sperber, an IU professor and frequent critic of Knight's. “Everyone says to me, "How can your university put up with this guy?' ... Why I don't think it's near the end is that the people who have to do it have never shown that they have the guts to do it.”

        Yet this no longer is simply a matter of taste — whether a notoriously hands-on coach has been too abusive of his athletes. The key question now is whether Indiana University can tolerate members of its staff systematically smearing a former student.

        When Reed's interview first was broadcast on CNN, IU staged a news conference to refute the story. It released a statement from a former player denying that Reed was choked, and a letter from a woman who said Reed had been guilty of directing foul and abusive language at children attending a basketball camp. Reed was painted as a misanthropic malcontent — “voted off the team” — as if IU basketball were a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

        The strategy was every bit as cynical, duplicitous and reprehensible as the White House's attempts to stigmatize Monica Lewinsky. Neil Reed may not be a candidate for canonization, and the videotape does not support his claim that assistant coaches had to separate him from Knight, but his story is founded in fact and it is deeply troubling.

        “In athletics there is an intensity and an aggression that probably doesn't exist in any other facet of the university setting,” said Mike Bobinski, Xavier University's athletic director. “But given that, there are boundaries that shouldn't be crossed.”

        Knight's hand on Reed's throat probably would qualify as excessive. By itself, though, it probably does not qualify as grounds for dismissal.

        If Knight gets fired, it's for the cover-up.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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