Calipari Needs To Go

Sports & RecreationsSports

  • Author Larry Farmer
  • Published April 9, 2022
  • Word count 844

Calipari Needs To Go

Editor’s note: This article was written in March, 2021

The time has come for Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari to go. I don’t say this based on his ability as a coach but on his betrayal of the spirit and essence of being a Kentucky fan. This year was horrible from the standpoint of wins and losses; Kentucky had its worst season since 1927. Nevertheless, it would be incomprehensible to fire a coach who has produced constant excellence for over 10 seasons because of one lousy year. However, if you couple that year with a complete denial and contempt for the cultural standards of what the Kentucky basketball program for decades has meant, its time for Calipari to leave the building.

In August, 2020 Kentucky players produced a video about Black Lives Matter. The incentive for this was the martyrdom of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by Louisville police in no knock drug raid, and George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis policeman in an arrest gone bad over passing a counterfeit bill. Black Lives Matter is a controversial and ambiguous concept. The meaning is open to interpretation even though many of its leaders have proclaimed it to have a Marxist intent. In the video the players more or less make the point that White society is racist to the core and it is their right and obligation to take a stand on this premise. Afterwards, Coach Calipari said, “I stand with my players.” He also wore a BLM t-shirt.

About the same time a movement began among students and professors at the University of Kentucky to rename Rupp Arena. Included among the group was Keion Brooks, a current Kentucky player. Those involved claimed Adolph Rupp, the legendary coach at Kentucky from 1929-1972, was racist because he did not aggressively recruit Black players. I will have more to say about Rupp and race in a future article. Calipari again entered the fray by saying that he was going to listen to all sides of this issue and encouraged a conversation. In our current environment, when someone says he wants a conversation, it means the issue is already settled in his mind. It has evolved from debate to what action can we take.

The straw that broke the camel’s back as far as I was concerned was the Kentucky players and coaches kneeling when the National Anthem was played. This disrespectful action took place just before the Wildcats took on Florida at Florida. It had been building up for awhile. Prior to the Florida game, the players had been staying in the dressing room while the National Anthem was played before home games in Rupp Arena.

Calipari defended the action. He said it was not about the military because many of the players came from military families. He said it was about recent events, implying it had to do with the January 6 “insurrection” at the capitol building in Washington, D. C. That made no sense. First, why protest an “insurrection” against the United States by protesting against the anthem of the United States? Second, if the “insurrection” was the motivation, why had the players been staying in the dressing room before January 6?

While being interviewed about the event, Calipari tried to have it both ways which is his usual mode of reasoning. He said he personally put his hand over his heart as the anthem was played. He did, but he also knelt and locked arms. In August when he said he was all ears about renaming Rupp Arena, he said he was good friends with Rupp’s son and didn’t want to believe the racist charges. Making a strong statement about something while keeping one’s foot on the other side of a line may go over when analyzing a basketball game, but it doesn’t cut it in matters of patriotism.

In one sense, I can appreciate Calipari being in a difficult dilemma. He has to rely on the best Black players the country has to offer while satisfying a virtually all White and fiercely patriotic fan base. To add to his problems, he lost his main disciplinarian after last season. Kenny Payne, his valuable assistant who kept things under control, left to become an assistant with the New York Knicks. Discipline is extremely important in sports. Players have to be trained to respond and to accept things as they are without questioning. Otherwise you lose, and dissention sets in. Payne was able to provide Calipari with the discipline he needed to have a well oiled winning machine.

Arguing for a coach to be dismissed goes against my grain. Usually I am a strong defender of the head coach. There’s a lot of stress to the position from the fans and a great deal of backstabbing from assistants and wannabes. Normally my position is you need to be patient and give a coach time to work through hard times. This situation is different. It’s not about winning, it’s about respect, patriotism, and heritage.

I received a bachelors degree in 1967 and a masters degree in 1971 from Western Kentucky University. I taught school for 44 years. One year was spent at Fordsville High School, 17 at Ohio County High School, and 26 at Trinity High School in Whitesville. The subjects I taught were government, history, and English. At Trinity I also served as coach, athletic director, and dean of students. I fancy myself a fairly good writer, and my main interests are sports and politics.

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