If you have read this site for a long time, you know a little secret, I hate reading most sports columnists. It is been my experience that with a couple of notable exceptions, sports columnists are all (a) old (b) cranky (c) uninformed (d) filled with an inflated sense of self-importance. This is less true on a local level, in which columnists are forced to follow the teams and have some knowledge on the subject of which they write, but is certainly the case nationally, where columnists on high pick targets and write foolish claptrap with the intended goal of “enlightening” the masses with their irrelevant opinions.
With that said, it brings me to today’s Boston Globe column by Dan Shaughnessy. If you dont know Dan, he is the guy with the really bad hair from Boston that isnt Bob Ryan, who you occasionally see on your tv on ESPN. He is old, cranky and full of vitriol, but usually saves it for irrelevant topics like the Red Sox and Yankees. Today however Dan focuses in on (what else?) Kentucky vs Cornell. Here are a couple of relevant quotes:
You can have Kentucky. You can take Ashley Judd, Adolph Rupp, Sam Bowie, Pat Riley, Coach Cal, Refuse to Lose, the one-and-done freshmen bound for the NBA, and all the bags of cash needed to make the Wildcats run.
I’ll take Cornell and the Ivy League, which has long been a joke in college basketball.
It’s a 12 seed against a top seed, but that’s only the beginning. It’s a team from a league that is routinely mocked against a team that represents college basketball royalty. It’s a team with a bunch of seniors getting ready to enter a tough job market against a team with a bunch of freshmen bound for the NBA lottery.
The Big Red also have 6-9 sub Mark Coury, who transferred to the Ivy League after starting 29 games for Kentucky as a sophomore. Had he stayed in Lexington, odds are Calipari would have run him out of the program.
Coury is a 4.0 student, which makes him a nice fit alongside freshman Eitan Chemerinski, who has been known to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes.
All of those quotes fit into a theme that we have now seen played out a number of times in national columns about the game. The first is Calipari hatred, but at this point I am used to that and you should be too. But the second is one that cuts to my very core and truly infuriates me, the racist and elitist nature of the Northeastern sports writer. When Dan writes about the difference between the two schools and says he will “take Cornell”, he isnt just choosing a Cinderella. He could choose Northern Iowa, St Marys, Xavier or Butler as his pick, all of whom have fascinating storylines, interesting coaches and players with diverse backgrounds. No, instead the sportswriter representing the most racist major sports town in America is choosing the one team in the Tournament that is both the (a) whitest and (b) most elitist school among the 65 entries.
See for Dan, Cornell represents the “true” nature of college basketball, because it is white, Northeastern and elitist. He mentions Ryan Wittman, the son of a former professional basketball player and coach, who has attended private school and been afforded opportunties due to his father’s position that almost no one else could ever have been given. Wittman has great talent, but it is talent that was nurtured by money and opportunity that allowed it to flourish. Contrast that with guys like Eric Bledsoe and Demarcus Cousins, who have in 18 years overcome more than almost anyone at Cornell will even fathom to have to deal with in their lives. Bledsoe and Cousins come from places where the support systems, especially as young children, were quite different and both had to WORK to get to where they are. In Cousins’ case, his engaging personality and basketball IQ are forgotten, while the media focus on his “temper” and breakdown his “thuggish” attitude (all the while praising white players with even worse playing styles, like Wake Forest’s McFarland). Players like Cousins and Bledsoe not only find little support, they must overcome that hatred from those that want to see them fail, and such hatred follows them wherever they go. We always hear about AAU coaches “coddling” players, and some of that is certainly true. But if one wants to know real “coddling” look at the backgrounds of the VAST majority of students at a place like Cornell, where trust funds and legacies have ensured success not only for the very intelligent, but also those with the laziest of minds and flimsiest of work ethics.
Shaugnessy certainly gets his facts wrong (Coury is a 4.0 student and a great kid, but he left under Gillispie and Calipari would have kept him…as he did Krebs and Harrellson) but that is not what infuriates me. It is the notion that those players (and students) at Cornell, who apparently are facing a “tough job market” (how about this Dan…come visit those Seniors at a school like Kentucky or Morehead State whose daddies couldnt afford to send them to the lowest of the Ivy Schools and see what the job market is like for them…and then determine whether we need to have sympathy for the Fighting ‘Nard Dogs at Cornell) are somehow more worthy of our applause. I am sure the players at Cornell are wonderful kids, who are interesting, engaging and can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes (my grandfather could do that as well Dan, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, without a Cornell degree and while running a gas station). But that doesnt mean that they are any more worthy of praise than a guy like Patrick Patterson, who has become a better role model for young people in this state than any I can remember. I am sure Chemerinski is a nice guy, but is he any more impressive than a kid like Mark Krebs, who has battled all year while his mother struggles with terminal cancer?
I am fine with fans and writers being for Cornell. They are the underdog and if they were not playing Kentucky, I would root for them too. But spare me this notion that (generally) wealthy, white kids who went to private schools in the Northeast are somehow morally superior to the players and students that make up the University of Kentucky. Just because Kentucky has a (predominantly) black team of players who have come from (mostly) poor backgrounds and are close to making their lifetime dreams come true by making it to the NBA does not mean they are at all beneath the “future CEOs” of the Ivy League. To say otherwise is not only elitist, which is a trait that many of these type of writers like Shaughnessy, Pete Thamel, John Feinstein, etc cant shake), but it also has tinges of racism. I thought we had moved beyond that in recent years, but as is often the case, it takes sports to bring out our ugliest sides.