Basketball with an ominous, black and white background.

You Won’t Be Missed, Bobby Knight

Bobby Knight has given us no reason to shed a single tear

Throwing chairs, winning championships, and screaming like a red-faced banshee. These are the things Bobby Knight will be remembered for.

People will remember him fondly. People will glorify who he was with aggrandizing, selective memories. 

But Bobby Knight was not a good man, and I will not miss him.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, Bobby Knight was the basketball coach for the University of Indiana many years ago. And he enjoyed a lot of success. He coached three national championship teams and was inducted into the basketball hall of fame in 1991. 

But on the court success is not what he should be remembered for.

Bobby Knight, but any reasonable measure, was a terrible person. The most famous part of his coaching career is not any of the championships he won, but becoming so enraged during a basketball game that he launched a chair across the court.

And that’s arguably one of the least of his problematic examples of his behavior, because he once choked a player during practice (, and in an interview, he once callously dismissed rape by saying, “I think if rape is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it” (PBS).

And all of this has me wondering if he was even a good coach. The way I see it, if the only way you can succeed is by instilling authoritative fear into children, then no, you are not a good coach. And based on his misogynistic world view, he probably wasn’t the best role model for the impressionable teenage boys he was mentoring.

The children who are subjected to coaching like this are not, as some would have you believe, fortunate to learn from this great basketball mind. No, these kids are the unlucky few who learn to believe that a crippling fear of failure is a natural part of life. And speaking from personal experience, I remember having a coach like Bobby Knight. Freshman year of high school, I had a football coach who was a terrifying man.

Photo from engin akyurt at Unsplash

To give you an idea of the man I was dealing with, on our first day of practice, it was arbitrarily decided I would be our team’s center. That meant I had to learn how to snap a football. And this is not an easy skill to learn.

First, you have to whip a ball between your legs to a target you can’t see. That’s already difficult. And as you’re rocketing that ball behind you, you have to accelerate as fast as you can to smash your body into the body of a very large person who’s trying to crush you into the dirt from whence you came. But you need to do it under control though, because if you accelerate too haphazardly, the person you’re trying to hit will just throw you to the ground and ruin the play you’re trying to run. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that you can always hit the wrong person too, and that will also ruin the play.

And, of course, it’s all a moot point if you don’t perfectly toss the ball you blindly launched between your legs in the first place. If you mess that up, the play’s over before it even starts.

So, this is what I was dealing with. It was a lot, and naturally, I was bound to fail at something. And for me, that something was the initial snap. 

Snap after snap, I continually missed my target. And snap after snap, my coach would angrily scream at me, a 14-year-old who hadn’t even technically started high school yet. He screamed at me, someone who had literally never done the thing he was asking me to do, because I wasn’t playing a game up to his lofty standards.

And I was fucked up after that practice. After just our first day of practice, I was angry, sad, and even a little despondent. There were few days where I ever wanted to quit playing football as much that day. But more than anything, I was scared.

I was scared of what may happen if I came back the next day and struggled like that again. I was afraid of how he’d react to another day of me not being up to his standards he set for me. I was scared that this angry and seemingly unpredictable man may do something angry and unpredictable if I failed again. And, to this day, I still shake in my boots at the thought of failing at something.

But I stuck it out. Every day I continued to go back to practice, and over time, this weird thing started to happen. Our coach started to become funny. And it’s not that he was some great comedian, he was just a ridiculous person. 

He was the most excessively angry person many of us children had ever encountered. His rage was so palpable and so over the top, that he became something of a farcical caricature to us. He was just a ridiculous human being. Many of us even began to enjoy his coaching. I even talked myself into thinking he was just a silly old man. And I never once thought about how I was suddenly terrified of failure. In our eyes, he was just the loveable, hilariously angry old man.

And this is what I fear we’ve done with Bobby Knight. We’ve turned him into this cartoonishly angry caricature that we all just laugh at. And because he’s so absurd, it feels like a lot of us have been giving him a pass for all his deeply toxic behavior.

And people like Bobby Knight, who’s toxic behavior gets rebranded as “passion” and “tough love”, are some of the most problematic people around, and represent everything that’s wrong with sports and men in general.

Sports culture and toxic masculinity go hand in hand for many reasons. But the most obvious reasons are that they glorify rape culture, hyper competitiveness, and encourage unhealthy expressions of rage. 

And there’s few people who embodied these traits better than Bobby Knight. 

I don’t care how good of a coach anyone tells us he is, I will not respect him. Anyone who throws chairs, diminishes rape, and screams at and chokes unpaid, teenage athletes is a terrible person. And all his grotesque behavior and problematic thoughts get passed down to the impressionable teenagers he bullied into submission. 

And that’s how people like him perpetuate the culture of toxic masculinity that’s so pervasive in sports.

So no, I won’t be getting hoodwinked with any nonsense about “tough love” and the “discipline” he instilled in his players. He’s a fear mongering bully who abused children to elevate his social status.

Good bye, Bobby Knight. You won’t be missed.

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