Indiana University Basketball coach Bobby Knight has done it again. No, his Hoosiers didn't win another national title; his latest moment in the spotlight occurred during an NBC-TV special on Monday, April 25, that examined the impact of stress. Knight was asked by interviewer Connie Chung, "There are times Bobby Knight can't do it his way—and what does he do then?" Knight replied, "I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." He quickly asked that Chung not "misinterpret" his remark, but it was too late; the real Bobby Knight was once again revealed.
This is an article from the May 9, 1988 issue
Though the subject at hand was stress, not rape, women's groups were incensed by Knight's crude and insensitive comment. Still, Indiana president Thomas Ehrlich did little but shrug. "Coach Knight was not speaking for the university," Ehrlich told The New York Times. "His reference to rape and his coarse language were in very poor taste. Period. That's all I really want to say." By Friday, Indiana's director of university relations, Jim Green, said Ehrlich was finished talking about the matter.
Through sports editor and columnist Bob Hammel of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone, Knight issued a quasi apology for his remark two days after the show was broadcast. "Anybody who knows me would be quick to say I would be one of the last people to adopt a careless attitude toward rape as criminal assault...," Knight said.
Hammel also wrote that Chung herself "had used the most objectionable of four-letter words several times in a lively back-and-forth discussion on camera. Somehow NBC did not elect to use any of [Chung's] comments." Hammel is a good friend of Knight's and his observation about the TV interviewer—Chung would not discuss the episode—seemed curiously similar to accusations leveled at rape victims, sometimes with cruel effect, that they actually invited an assault. In his column Hammel seemed to be reasoning that the woman reporter had lured the man into a verbal trap.
Sexist comments are not out of character for Knight. In his book about the 1985-86 Indiana team, A Season on the Brink, author John Feinstein wrote, "Knight's sexism is no secret. In fact, he often wears it like a badge of honor."
Knight has long displayed an in-sensitivity toward women, particularly those who invade his sacred basketball realm. He has ridiculed women reporters and has drawn obscene pictures when he knew they were watching. He once put a tampon in the locker of then-Hoosier forward Landon Turner as a means of letting the player know that Knight thought he was a wimp. In his book, Feinstein also reported that Knight's own son Pat has said, "I think if I had come out a girl he would have shoved me back inside."
Knight is intelligent and devoted to his craft. By all accounts, his program sticks to the rules, and he insists that his players also be students. But he has also frequently lost control of himself: Knight assaults a policeman and doesn't show for the trial; Knight stuffs a fan into a trash barrel; Knight throws a chair; Knight kicks a cheerleader's megaphone; Knight pulls his team off the court. And his idolaters say, hey, that's just Bobby. His own players have to make excuses for their coach. How revealing that a man who demands discipline above all else from others shows so little in his own life.
Judging from Ehrlich's statements thus far. Knight's rape quote won't get him fired. And maybe it shouldn't. But Knight ought to be aware of some precedents. In 1976, a TV weatherman in New York City named Tex Antoine lost his job after jokingly making almost the identical remark about rape on the air; Antoine had been a local television personality for 26 years. In 1977 Archie Simonson, a judge in Madison, Wis., was recalled by voters after he said from the bench that a 15-year-old boy had reacted "normally" when he allegedly raped a schoolgirl.
It seems that no matter what he does, Knight gets off the hook—a dispensation obviously related to the fact that he wins basketball games at a public university in a state that worships the sport. When Knight took his team off the floor during a game last fall against the Soviet national team, the university issued a statement deploring the "great embarrassment" the coach caused the school and then did nothing.
Ehrlich says that Knight does not speak for the university. Then for whom does he speak? The coaching profession? Why has an institution of higher learning allowed itself to be cowed by a basketball coach?
In addition to being basketball coach at Indiana, Knight is a nontenured, part-time professor of physical education. What kind of lessons are his students learning from his crudities and boorish behavior? When will this teacher grow up? How much can a university take?