Until Tuesday night, the case against Bob Knight appeared to be just another round of player-said, coach-said. Every accusation of abuse made by former players against the Indiana University basketball coach could be contested by Knight, and was, Knight being a sage in the art of media manipulation.
In fact, Knight’s counterattack against the controversial report aired by CNN/Sports Illustrated on March 14 had been one of his all-time master strokes. Within hours of the program’s airing, Knight had succeeded in casting CNN/SI as the heavy--as a network with an anti-Knight agenda, intent on torpedoing Indiana’s NCAA tournament chances by broadcasting the report three days before the Hoosiers’ first-round game against Pepperdine.
But Tuesday night, after enduring a month of media criticism, CNN/SI issued a response in the time-honored parlance of television sports newscasting:
Let’s go to the videotape.
There, captured on camera, was Knight interrupting a 1997 practice to angrily approach player Neil Reed and wrap his right hand around Reed’s throat. Reed, in the March 14 program, had accused Knight of choking him in practice, a charge Knight later denied by claiming he frequently “repositions” players during practice by grabbing them by the back of the neck and moving them to another spot on the court.
This, clearly, was no educational repositioning. This was an irate Knight, making a beeline to Reed, clenching his hand around the front of the player’s throat and holding it there for nearly four seconds.
Reed, in the earlier report, had also charged that Knight had to be restrained by two assistant coaches. The videotape, however, only shows Reed staggering backward and then walking away from Knight after the coach loosened his grip.
John Walda, one of two Indiana University trustees appointed to investigate the charges against Knight, viewed the tape before it was aired Tuesday and is quoted on the program saying, “The tape does seem to shed some light on the reported incident between Coach Knight and Neil Reed.”
Walda said the tape would be used as evidence in the investigation, which is scheduled to produce a final report no later than the third week in June.
The tape has also caused some repositioning of minds within the media. Several critics who assailed CNN/SI for its March 14 program--Fox Sports News’ Keith Olbermann among them--now are calling for Knight’s firing or resignation.
LETTING THE VIEWER DECIDE
CNN/SI isn’t saying where it got the videotape, although it is common knowledge that Indiana videotapes all of its basketball practices. Steve Robinson, CNN/SI managing editor, would only say the March 14 program and subsequent reaction to it led to the network receiving a copy of the tape of the 1997 incident.
Pat Knight, Bob’s son and an Indiana assistant, told the Associated Press that the tape was taken by Ron Felling, an assistant who was fired in December.
Robinson said the response to Tuesday’s update on the Knight controversy has been “enormous . . . I think it’s safe to say, since there has been a CNN/Sports Illustrated, this is the piece that has had the most impact. [Knight] is an important figure in the world we cover, no question about it.”
The tape, if not total vindication for the earlier report, at least provided it some validation.
“The best thing about having a piece of video,” Robinson said, “is that people can kind of make up their minds. We believed, obviously, when we did the first piece that our sourcing was solid and what Neil Reed said occurred had occurred.
“The description of Knight coming at him with two hands and holding him with one for at least a few seconds, Reed trying to twist away--that part of the account was borne out by any number of people we interviewed. . . . I think it’s pretty much in line with what Neil told us and what other people told us off the record, with the apparent contradiction of [Reed’s claim of] Knight being pulled off him.”
Robinson said that “apparent contradiction” was “significant enough for us to feel the need to address it in the piece. Reed’s explanation is that’s the way he remembered it. It was what he recalled. That’s the best he could do in explaining it, and I’m not inclined, frankly, to try to do any better than that.
“Does it alter one’s perception of the incident? Well, again, that’s why the video is there. People can make up their own minds about it.”
Los Angeles sports fans, you have a dilemma:
Is it worth seeing the Kings extend their first-round Stanley Cup series with the Detroit Red Wings to a sixth game if it means having the Lakers open the NBA playoffs with only two days’ rest?
Game 6 of the Kings-Red Wings is scheduled for Sunday, April 23, at Staples Center, with ABC featuring the game as its nationally televised broadcast. The Lakers are also due to open the NBA playoffs at home on April 23, but if the Kings are using Staples Center the same day, the Lakers are left with the following options:
1. Play after the Kings-Red Wings game, at 8 p.m.--for those viewers on the East Coast, the ungodly hour of 11 p.m.
2. Move the opener to Saturday.
Option 1 is possible, but is it realistic? “I doubt it,” said Brian McIntyre, NBA senior vice president of sports communication.
Option 2 would have the Lakers concluding their regular season in San Antonio on a Wednesday night, with Thursday a travel day and Friday the lone practice day before the playoff opener.
Not an ideal scenario for the Lakers, but, then again, in the big picture, what will it mean?
A not-so-fresh Laker team waxing either Seattle or Sacramento by 15 points on Saturday instead of 25 on Sunday?
Dan Margulis, director of programming for ABC Sports, said the network had to choose between Kings-Detroit and Phoenix-Colorado for its NHL telecast on April 23.
“We knew both of those series had potential NBA conflicts,” Margulis said, “and we were told to protect one. If we protected Detroit-L.A., that would basically mean the Suns would play on Sunday and the Lakers on Saturday.”
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What Los Angeles Is Watching
A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for April 8-9, including sports on cable networks:
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Pro basketball: San Antonio at Lakers 4 7.8 17 Golf: The Masters 2 6.0 17 Baseball: Dodgers at Mets 5 3.3 11 Figure skating: World Championships 7 2.9 8 Pro soccer: Galaxy at Columbus 9 2.1 5 Horse racing: Santa Anita Derby 11 1.9 5 Golf: Michael Douglas tournament 7 0.6 2 Pro basketball: Clippers at Dallas 9 0.4 1
Cable Network Rating Share Baseball: Boston at Angels FSN 1.5 3 Baseball: San Francisco at Atlanta TBS 1.2 3 Tennis: Davis Cup ESPN 0.6 2 Women’s soccer: U.S. vs. Iceland ESPN2 0.5 1 College hockey: NCAA final ESPN 0.4 1 College baseball: USC at UCLA FSN 0.3 1 Pro hockey: Boston at Philadelphia ESPN2 0.3 1 Auto racing: NASCAR Busch Grand National 320 TNN 0.2 1 Baseball: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati WGN 0.2 1 Pro hockey: Houston at Ice Dogs FSN2 0.2 NS
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Golf: The Masters 2 8.1 21 Pro basketball: Miami at Knicks (OT only) 4 4.6 10 Pro basketball: Utah at Houston 4 4.4 12 Pro basketball: Philadelphia at Orlando 4 4.2 13 Pro basketball: Phoenix at Sacramento 4 3.7 9 Pro hockey: Kings at Mighty Ducks 7 1.0 3 Auto racing: CART Bosch Grand Prix 7 0.9 2
Cable Network Rating Share Tennis: Davis Cup ESPN 1.4 3 Baseball: Cleveland at Tampa Bay ESPN 1.0 2 Boxing: Thomas Hearns vs. Uriah Grant FSN 0.9 1 Baseball: San Francisco at Atlanta TBS 0.9 3 Baseball: Boston at Angels FSN 0.7 2 Auto racing: Winston’s Cup Goody 500 ESPN 0.7 2 Auto racing: NHRA Summit Racing.com Nationals TNN 0.4 1 Horse racing: Apple Blossom ESPN2 0.4 1 Auto racing: Formula One San Marino Grand Prix FSN 0.2 1