There is no subject which Kentucky fans have become more reluctant to discuss than that of racism. Whether deservedly or not, Kentucky's past, particularly during part of Adolph Rupp's reign during the 1960's, has been held up as an example of racism in sport. Over the years, UK fans have become as sensitive to accusations of racial animus as the eye is to grit - and this is the backdrop against which I write this brief essay.
Comes now Gary Parrish to point out that the SEC suddenly has only one black coach, and that race must be at the bottom of it. He suggests not only that UK, Ole Miss and Arkansas have racist fan bases, but that the white athletic directors at each of those schools feel pressured to hire white coaches. He points to the fact that the sole black head coach, Dennis Felton, has a black athletic director, and he assures us that's most likely the reason Felton is still at Georgia. The fact that he is a great coach probably has nothing at all to do with it.
I know I am talking to the hand here, but I get pushed out of shape every time this subject comes up vis-a-vis Kentucky - in other words, I am one of the hypersensitive. For years, we have had to listen to the national media regurgitate the "conventional wisdom" that Adolph Rupp was a racist. The hiring of Tubby Smith at Kentucky was supposed to bring a kind of closure, or at least equinamity, to the pointing fingers of the past. And for a time, it looked like we had reached a point to where we were over the 1960's image of Kentucky basketball, as caricatured as it was.
Everyone both in Kentucky and elsewhere understood that there were still a number of people in state who opposed Smith on the basis of his race. But that number, to our Commonwealth's credit, has become very small and very marginalized. Then, Hollywood thoughtfully came along last year and reinfoced the "conventional wisdom" by parading it to millions of people in the form of Glory Road, which both the sports media and political talking heads welcomed as an exposé of UK's complicity in fighting racial integration.
But with Smith's recent recruiting difficulties and mediocre team performance, criticism of the fans became commonplace, and the whispers of latent racial animus became accusations, although perhaps tempered by the fact Smith's teams were clearly underperforming not only by Kentucky standards, but by his own. Smith decided to settle his differences with the Big Blue Nation by leaving on his terms. Interestingly enough, this self-same Gary Parrish both acknowledged Smith's deficiencies while at the same time laying the foundation for just this article in a recent reply to an emailer:
So Smith was "run out of Kentucky", and now we, along with Akansas and Mississippi are responsible for stepping back from diversity. It seems as if Parrish thinks once you have a black head basketball coach, that position should always remain occupied by a minority. How else can we explain Kentucky's complicity in taking "three steps back" from diversity? Does Parrish really see the three schools who replaced black coaches with white as potentially doing violence to advances in eliminating racial bigotry?
To be honest, I'm not really too upset with Gary. He is a sportswriter, and sportswriters need to be controversial in order to be read, and nothing is more controversial than a white man exploiting white guilt. I guess Kentucky fans can be thankful that he has accused the entire SEC of racism along with UK this time. They do say that misery loves company.
I'm trying to remember - when was the last black basketball coach Duke University had? North Carolina? Doesn't matter, according to Parrish, because the ACC has lots of black head coaches, so that makes it all OK. The fact that UK actually hired and kept a black coach in charge of one of the great programs in America for 10 years matters not at all to him. I suppose it's "what have you done in the name of diversity lately?", and in his mind, the SEC just hasn't done enough.
Well I say "bollocks" to Parrish and his guilt-tripping kin. But whether or not I agree with his condescending attempt to create controversy and comment, I have to admit one thing: It worked like a charm on me.
Update [2007-4-24 7:18:53 by Truzenzuzex]: MaconDawg over at SBN sister blog Dawg Sports has a similar take, although some UK fans may not like his characterization of us as "mullet-wearing nutjobs". Me, I wish I could wear a mullet, but they don't look too good with a big bald spot in the top.