To maintain our existence within the sports world, we isolate dualities at every turn. The media, unbiased as front?page mottos may portray their mission to be, juxtapose good and evil as freely as Disney movies. Fans, intoxicated with the potential for fleeting happiness, are even more culpable.
This is nothing revolutionary. In fact, it’s basic human nature. Preference is relative. To say we “like” one team or one player is really to say that we like them more than the rest. We base our fandom off lineage – who our parents root for – what we ourselves witness in games and what we read in the media. Objective analysis becomes difficult when clouded by passion, and this is simply the nature of the beast.
To this end, how do we treat someone so widely despised like John Calipari?
By all accounts, based off the widespread vitriol gushing from every orifice outside of Lexington, Ky., Calipari would appear to rank as one of the country’s most hated individuals who never wielded a weapon, committed a crime or announced his relocation plans on television. He acts the part – operating a system of one?and?done at Kentucky that counteracts the “they’re students first” rubbish espoused by the NCAA – and he looks the part, patrolling the sidelines with a grease?combed haircut and a banal smirk that, were he to star in a Coen Brothers movie, would serve as a distractor for the knife calmly piercing your lower intestine.
Calipari has been labeled a villain, a rogue who recruits NBA prospects knowing full well that they will, after mere months, bolt for pastures colored green by both the future and the Benjamins. He’s accrued NCAA violations and burned bridges along the way.
And so Calipari rides on the Kentucky Karousel, boosting wide?eyed high school seniors onto a wooden Wildcat for a once?around before dumping them off on the other side, free to wander into the professional ranks, guilt?free that they played by an arbitrary age limit and competed for a national championship.
Kentucky’s victory over Kansas on Monday justified the system that the rest of America – sans Ashley Judd – has slotted into the bin marked “definitively evil.” The question is why. Has our conditioning according to the American Dream been so overwhelmingly narrow?minded that we cannot accept a coach recruiting players, fully aware that they will never graduate? It’s admittedly a tough pill to swallow; acknowledging the validity of Calipari’s approach means, for most, acknowledging that higher education shouldn’t matter if better opportunities surface.
Calipari’s reasoning traipses along similar lines. He references Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and those who left college when it had little left to offer them besides parties and an opportunity to screw up the future. He refuses to use the term “student?athlete,” a phrase that seems altruistic but was really created to protect the NCAA from having to offer workman’s compensation to injured football players. He wants to reimburse players for their earning power. Rather than conform behind the walls of amateurism, Calipari is staring down the tank and beating it at its own game.
Calipari’s first national championship is a landmark moment for college basketball. He has long been the fire over which 18?year?olds can marinate for a year before bolting into the NBA. Now he becomes a beacon for those looking to pad their legacy, an ever?growing source of motivation in a brand?centric world, by tacking an NCAA title onto lottery money. Is it selfish or selfless? If Calipari wanted to bolster his own coaching legacy, wouldn’t he try to convince players to stick around? Or does this give him the best of both worlds, glory for himself and his players? Maybe unanswerable, certainly rebellious, but unquestionably respectable.
Alex Prewitt is a senior majoring in English and religion. He can be reached on his blog at http://livefrommudville.blogspot.com or followed on Twitter at @Alex_Prewitt.