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Billy Reed: Looking for the coaches who teach values and character — and not just pursuit of big money

My interest in sports has been tempered by what’s happening these days in our government. It’s difficult for me to get excited about a game, even the Super Bowl, when the cable networks are reporting about attacks on our Constitution and democratic ideals.

I wish I could have lunch with the late Ed Ryan. When I was sports editor of The Courier-Journal of Louisville in the late 1970s and ‘80s, Ed and I would sometimes get together to exchange newspaper gossip. Invariably, we would get around to talking how much our jobs were alike.

Ed said politics was the biggest game of all, and I couldn’t disagree. Both sports and politics had more than their share of egotists, liars, cheaters, and lobbyists who always were hammering us to write this way or that about their clients. For both of us, getting to the truth often was as difficult as picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Today it’s the same, except more so. In both sports and politics, we have reached unprecedented levels of cheating and lying. And it’s accompanied by levels of ugliness, incivility, ignorance, prejudice, and hatefulness that no thinking person could ever imagine in America.

By and large, the biggest-name college and professional coaches ignore what’s going on in Washington, D.C., which is a shame considering the positive influence they could have on a nation of eroded values and lack of direction.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

For as long as anybody can remember, most coaches in all sports have taught their athletes to play by the rules, to be modest in victory and gracious, to be disciplined and team-oriented, to be honest even when it hurts, to treat opponents with respect, and to be courageous under pressure.

I can only conclude that many of today’s politicians either didn’t play sports when they were growing up, or have completely disregarded the lessons their coaches, supported by parents and teachers, taught them.

This is the main problem with the so-called “one-and-done” players in college basketball. All they care about is moving on to the NBA and getting as much money as they can possibly get.

I’m not as opposed to this as much as I am using our nation’s colleges and universities as basketball factories. At every school that embraces the one-and-done nonsense, academic integrity takes a hit.

And if you believe, as I do, that life is about far more than just accumulating money, I give you this to consider: Producing great minds is more important than producing NBA stars. A college degree still is a key that opens the doors for people who want to be a contributor to our society. We need these minds more than the NBA does.

But the coaches, who always have been looked upon as “character builders,” live in a vacuum. They do not use current events as a teaching tool. Their silence about what’s happening in our government is deafening.

In other words, they won’t stand up for the values they teach. They are as gutless as some of the politicians we see every day on cable TV, and I must ask, “Why?” What do they fear? Or is it simply that they don’t care? Whatever, they don’t teach their athletes the most important lesson of all: Always have the courage to do the right thing.

I should hasten to add that we have seen exceptions. North Carolina’s Dean Smith, LSU’s Dale Brown, UCLA’s John Wooden, and Georgetown’s John Thompson were among those who stood up and denounced injustice whenever they encountered it.

But I’m not sure who their spiritual descendants are. Of all today’s NCAA Division-I coaches, can you name anybody who has a defining social conscience? Who was the last coach you remember standing up against racism, sexism, even the gun laws that enable criminals to walk into a school and use an assault weapon to kill children?

The coaches I’ve always admired the most teach more than the pick-and-roll and the ball-line defense. They also teach values that will still be guiding their players long after they can dunk or nail the three. I’m sure some are still out there; they just haven’t come to my attention.

So it’s harder than usual to get excited about the Final Four or the Kentucky Derby when our society is crumbling around us. I wish I were engaging in a little hyperbole here, but I’m not. I am more concerned about our nation’s health and well-being since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

At that time, the Russians had set up missiles in Cuba that were pointed directly at targets in the United States felt we were on the brink of the next World War. Fortunately, President John F. Kennedy convinced Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev to disarm his missiles and go home.

But I’m not sure we would have that kind of outcome today. Several countries have nuclear weapons, and none of them trusts anybody else. There is too much saber-rattling to make me feel safe.

It will be difficult to get worked up about sports when there so many more important issues to think about. Yet I will do my best to write entertaining and informative columns about sports. I will try to send my concerns to the locker room and keep them there.

But I also will be on the lookout for a coach who has the courage to speak out in favor of the values he or she is supposed to be teaching. That person will get my vote as Coach-of-the-Year and I don’t even care what his or her team’s record is.

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One Comment

  1. Lee says:

    Gun laws do not enable criminals!! Criminals do not obey laws!!!

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