I really don’t want to stomp on a man’s grave, I really don’t. But our society and media’s ability to OVERBLOW a person’s legacy after their death just blows my mind. Michael Jackson was an absolute trainwreck who may or may not have criminally touched children. Yet his death served a greater sorrow from the worldwide population than any person I can remember, all because he could sing and dance.
I will not say that John Wooden has received that level of fawning from people in general, but the media’s drooling over what Wooden means to society is starting to become just a tad bit ridiculous. What is especially difficult in Wooden’s case is that WOODEN WAS TRULY A GREAT MAN. He deserves a lot of the honor that he has received. He was a good man, who treated people better than some deserve, gave tons to charity, and was truly impactful to countless numbers of people. But so was my grandfather and I am sure many of you have friends and family who have passed away you could say the same thing about. But our loved ones didn’t win basketball games.
But, articles like Rick Reilly’s on ESPN show that it is “in vogue” right now to act like we have truly lost the second coming of Jesus Christ. First of all, Reilly calls Wooden the “second coming of Abraham Lincoln.” Lincoln ABOLISHED SLAVERY AND KEPT THE COUNTRY IN TACT, Wooden coached basketball players. Yeah, Reilly’s right, those two things are basically the same.
But the quote that truly stuck in my mind was this:
“At UCLA, he didn’t pay enough attention to realize a booster named Sam Gilbert was lavishing his players with gifts and cars. But I will punch any man in the mouth who says Wooden knew. He couldn’t have known it or he’d have stopped it. He’d have sooner cut off his own hand than cheat.”
Rick Reilly says that Wooden never knew about Sam Gilbert EVER or he would have surely stopped it. He is claiming that Wooden never knew his players were being given gifts. You are telling me that Wooden never noticed that a kid he recruited out of a poor neighborhood suddenly was driving a nice car or wearing nice clothes, and didn’t question how that kid got those nice things? Give me a break. Whether or not Wooden ever knew it was Gilbert giving these gifts away is unknown, but Wooden HAD TO KNOW his players were getting some perks.
And I don’t say that to hurt the man’s legacy, frankly I don’t care what happened because it happened 30-40 years ago, and that moment has passed. I simply say this because the media’s inability to put things in perspective baffles me.
What is John Wooden’s legacy? He was the most successful basketball coach in the history of college basketball, beloved by players, who in retirement became a noted motivator. PERIOD. He wasn’t revolutionary, he wasn’t a once in a lifetime person, he was simply a great man and a great coach. But Abraham Lincoln he was not. And let’s spend some time honoring the everyday man who impacted people’s lives like Wooden but didn’t become famous from sports or entertainment. When is Rick Reilly gonna write that article?
RIP John Wooden.