by Kent Sterling
Not sure if I’m the only person in the media who wrestles with this, but I really don’t like to be critical of people who play collegiate athletics.
They are amateurs, students, and barely out of high school. That should keep their behavior from being dissected under a high intensity microscope. Life in college is tough enough without a bunch of people deciding who you are for you.
Yesterday, after Indiana beat Stony Creek 90-74, I thought it would be a good time to look at how the team has progressed, and asked and answered five questions that I felt would determine how the Hoosiers would fare the rest of the season.
One of those questions addressed a specific player in a way I have never employed before because of my distaste for being critical of kids playing for free, and it made me wince as I wrote it. I’m still conflicted.
I tend to write as I would like my own son to be written about. My son played basketball, and I used to see his name on message boards from time to time – sometimes positively, and other times not so much.
The tonnage of what the posters didn’t know was so enormous that it couldn’t be quantified. They pretended to know things that weren’t true, and made the experience of reading the posts very frustrating. Finally, I bailed on the message boards entirely, and haven’t been back since. I used to post links from this site on there, but haven’t done that in years either because I don’t want to be associated with several of those posters.
Criticism without knowledge is the hallmark of the stooges who have multiple thousands of message board posts to their discredit, but at some point the responsibility for the decision to play basketball at a place like Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, or Kansas, where the lights shine a lot brighter belongs to the players and their families.
There is going to be praise and criticism – both founded and unfounded – that will drive the player and those close to him completely nuts if they listen to it.
My responsibility is to write here and say on the radio what I see. If I’m wrong, people have every opportunity to correct the message. The mandate should be to always be fair and never personal. If a kid walks on and off the court like he would rather be somewhere else, there is a great way to correct that assumption – find a way to love the game, or stop playing.
It would be dishonest to not write or talk about it, and whatever else people think of me or other people who are paid to voice their opinions, whether we are being honest can never be questioned or all is lost. Being wrong is an occasional embarrassment. Being dishonest is unforgivable.
Criticizing adults is easy. With coaches, managers, athletic directors, and others who have been around long enough to have developed coping mechanisms for dealing with criticism, bringing a hammer down is an easy call. I have no problem exposing Cubs owner Tom Ricketts as a grade A weasel, but to question the body language of a sophomore in college is different, and it causes me grief.
It’s not like I haven’t done my time watching the player closely – in high school, summer ball, and at IU – and his behavior has never changed from what I described last night.
There is only one reason for me to spend time writing and talking about sports, and that is to share whatever my version of the truth is. As readers or listeners, a desire to be informed or entertained by that version of the truth is the only reason to consume it.
So I tell that truth, whether it pains me or the person about which it’s told. That’s the job. Hopefully, I have the grace and discipline to make certain it’s always fair and never personal.
If a player or coach doesn’t want to deal with it, there are plenty of places where he can play in the dark.