The abhorrent word rolled easily from Bob Huggins’ lips.
That should’ve been enough to earn an early retirement, but college athletics has no shame.
So, Huggins remains the men’s basketball coach at West Virginia.
A bit poorer, but hardly a pauper. And, yeah, he’ll be suspended for the first three games of next season, but that conveniently allows him to miss blockbuster contests against Missouri State, Monmouth and Jacksonville State before returning just in time for a trip to sunny Fort Myers, Florida.
To say Huggins got off lightly is a huge understatement.
West Virginia decided to keep its Hall of Fame coach with an admonishment that he better not say that homophobic slur again. If he does, he most certainly, definitely will be fired, school officials said in words that have never rang more hollow.
The Mountaineers are willing to let slide the ugliness that surely remains in Huggins’ heart, which came pouring out for the world to hear during his appearance Monday on a Cincinnati talk radio show.
While showing his childish disdain for Xavier (which goes back to his time as Cincinnati’s coach, a tenure that ended 18 years ago), Huggins denigrated Catholics, talked of “rubber penises” being thrown on the court by Musketeer fans, and twice used an anti-gay slur.
The most troubling aspect of the whole affair was how freely Huggins used that ugly word — with absolutely no pushback from the talk show host, to boot.
This was hardly a slip of the tongue. It was clear that Huggins has used this word before in more select company. And, frankly, we’re not the least bit persuaded he won’t do it again, except to make sure he’s not on the air with thousands of people listening.
This was a chance for West Virginia to show that words do matter.
Instead, the guys who are supposed to be in charge tried to persuade everyone that Huggins can teach a more important lesson by remaining on the sideline.
“We will never truly know the damage that has been done by the words said in those 90 seconds,” West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and athletic director Wren Baker said in a statement that, fortunately for them, wasn’t delivered in person so they didn’t have to keep a straight face.
“Words matter and they can leave scars that can never be seen,” the statement went on. “But words can also heal. And by taking this moment to learn more about another’s perspective, speak respectfully and lead with understanding, perhaps the words ‘do better’ will lead to meaningful change for all.”
Huggins’ comments were part of a busy week for offensive words.
Oakland Athletics broadcaster Glen Kuiper has been suspended indefinitely while his employer conducts a review of him using a racial epithet while describing a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City before a game against the Royals.
Kuiper apologized and claimed he inadvertently mangled the word — a explanation that was met with plenty of skepticism, especially from people of color who’ve been subjected to it far too many times.
Then there’s ESPN anchor John Anderson, who thought it would be funny to say — right in the middle of “SportsCenter,” mind you — the last name of Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud sounded like toilet paper.
Whitecloud is the first member of Canada’s Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to play in the NHL.
“This is totally on me and I sincerely apologize to Zach, the Golden Knights, their fans and everyone else for what I said,” Anderson said in a statement. “It’s my job to be prepared and know the backgrounds of the players and I blew it.”
Sadly, there’s a bigger issue at play here.
After years of showing more sensitivity toward the pain caused by offensive verbiage, our entire society seems to be falling back into some bad, old habits.
Sorry, it’s not sending the right message to reduce Huggins’ annual salary from $4.5 million to $3.5 million and have him miss three largely meaningless games.
We’re certainly not optimistic that sensitivity training — another of the sanctions ordered by his employer — will suddenly transform the 69-year-old Huggins into a warm, caring figure.
After West Virginia’s most recent season ended at the NCAA Tournament with a first-round loss to Maryland, I got a chance to ask Huggins how long he intended to coach.
“You probably got people who enjoy reading what you write, and there’s people who say I wouldn’t read a damn thing he writes. I got the same situation going on,” Huggins said. “I got people who think I should stay on for quite a while, and there’s people probably thinking I ought to pack it in and let some young kid come in and screw it up.”
Turns out, it was Huggins who screwed up.
But he’s still got a job.
What a disgrace.
Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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