…from the Point of Wit

This week (July 1-7, 2001), the New Jersey State appellate court took a stand for amateur athletes. A stand for student-athletes. A stand that was far too long in the making.

The court allowed former Rutgers University men’s basketball players, Earl Johnson, Josh Sankes, and team manager Juan Carlos Pla, to sue the university, former men’s head basketball coach Kevin Bannon, former assistant coach Tod Kowalczyk and athletic director Robert E. Mulcahy III for sexual harassment.

Why, you ask? Allegedly, Bannon, in his first year at Rutgers-1997- had his team in a free throw shooting contest, in which, if a player missed, he had to remove an article of clothing. The players thought that the contest would stop at their underwear. “I thought it was funny when we were taking free throws,” Johnson said

Bannon had a different idea. A vulgar idea. An illegal idea.

“No one was laughing at the end; we didn’t want to do it,” Johnson stated.

The players would run after the contest, and as a consequence for losing, they would be forced to run naked-and they had to take foul shots in the nude.

Bannon has said that he wanted to have some levity in a disastrous season, calling it “a lighthearted contest.” Evidently, he didn’t communicate that to his players who were, shocked and embarrassed. Gary Sankes, Josh’s father has stated that his son did not want to take part in the drill and that women were present in the practice facility.

How, and from what twisted corner of his psyche, Bannon came up with this repulsive idea, we’ll never know. How he, or one of his assistants didn’t instantaneously kill this idea, I’ll never know. How he and his staff weren’t immediately fired boggles my mind.

Not only wasn’t Bannon not fired, he wasn’t punished in the least; no suspension, nothing. He coached at Rutgers, for three more seasons being fired after this past season.

Bannon was fired from Rutgers for committing a crime in the world of big-time college coaching. Bannon committed the crime of losing. In his four years at the State University of New Jersey, he was 59-60. Rutgers didn’t make the NCAA tournament during his reign; but they did make the NIT [Not Important Tournament] in 1999 and 2000.

So Bannon was fired for losing, instead of being terminated for humiliating the young men in his care. It seems right, considering the state of college athletics today.

Bobby Knight chokes a player on videotape-and we’ve all seen the videotape, he choked Neil Reed- and allegedly walks onto the practice court, holding toilet paper with fecal matter on it and tells his players that’s how they are practicing. Former St. John’s men’s head basketball coach Fran Fraschilla was fired for purportedly walking on to the practice court, dropping his pants, and telling his players they didn’t have genetalia. Nice.

But what’s more shocking are the excuses that are made for these alleged adults. The excuses range from, “They are just trying to mold kids into men,” to “They’re stressed and this is the way they are relieving stress.”

And who makes the excuses for these men? Only important “journalists.” People like Dick Vitale and Billy Packer.

Packer and Vitale are two of the biggest hypocrites in the world of sports. They are also the two most visible names in college basketball. They have criticized the NBA for allowing college stars and high school kids to jump to the league, instead of playing ball at the college level.

Yet, they are noticeably quiet when it comes to a matter like this. When they are questioned about it, they make a perfunctory comment about molding men and then change the subject to something that pleases them.

Quite simply, this is unacceptable. The acts committed by these coaches, would have them arrested, if performed in the public sector. But since this is done in a closed practice, evidently it’s all right. It’s not.

But what’s worse were the actions of New Jersey Superior Court Judge Nicholas Stroumtsos Jr. The honorable judge, and I use the term “honorable” loosely, dismissed the players’ first lawsuit. The trio, Johnson, Pla and Sankes sued the school, Bannon, Mulchay, Fred Gruninger [Mulchay’s predecessor and the man who hired Bannon], Rutgers President Francis Lawrence, the trustees and board of directors and Kowalczyk for damages in 1999.

In his brief, Stroumtsos said that the players hadn’t offered proof of humiliation, harm or that they were sexually harassed.

Um, hello? The players’ description of what happened sounds like the exact definition of sexual harassment.

Thankfully, the appellate court overturned Stroumtsos’s idiotic decision. The players and Pla can sue Bannon and Kowalczyk for unspecified damages. But one wonders, will this mark the end of this type of behavior by coaches? I hope so, but my feeling is that as long as a coach wins, it won’t matter what he does. Because winning, and not molding men, is what counts in big-time college sports.

. . .

This story has somewhat of a happy ending. All three men left the State University of New Jersey after the 1997 season ended, with Johnson transferring to Iona and Sankes to Holy Cross. This past season, both Johnson and Sankes made the NCAA tournament with their respective teams. Neither school lasted long in the tourney but Johnson and Sankes are winners, unlike their former coach.

. . .

Does anybody think that Omar Cook made a bad decision? “Is that you, Omar, raising your hand?”

How good would the Johnnies have been last season if Artest and Barkley stayed, and Miles came? That’s a hypothetical question-don’t try and answer it. You’ll end up depressed.

I watched a re-run of Saturday Night Live, with Cheri Oteri and Molly Shannon. I have a question. How did they get on a comedy show when they’re not funny?

I can’t wait for college football to start. I get so giddy when I get to bash the BCS…

Who is the rocket scientist, in the Big East’s scheduling department, that didn’t schedule St. John’s-Syracuse, St. John’s-Georgetown and/or St. John’s-Rutgers men’s hoops games this season, but the Johnnies get to play neophyte Virginia Tech at The Garden? That’ll sell out-like a boy band at a Limp Bizkit concert.

Kyle Cuffe is going to be very good this season.

People are going to rediscover Anthony Glover this season.

Hopefully, Alpha Bangura will live up to expectations this season.

James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano, is doing TV ads for Rutgers football. I can’t wait to see that: “Hey yuz, go to da game…Rutgers-Notre Dame. Yeah, I know Notre Dame is 45 point favorite, just go,utter wise, I gotta break your head open. Anthony Jr. did what?!”

Why can’t St. John’s have Jay-Z do TV ads for the men’s hoops team? Or at least, mention them on his next CD?

The NCAA-everybody’s fun party guest-and ESPN have signed a $200 million dollar contract that will allow the “World-wide leader in hip-sounding, but ultimately, lame clich√©s,” to broadcast all of the women’s basketball tournament and more of the College World Series for the next 11 years. That’s great, $200 million for games that will be outdone in the ratings by the O.J. Simpson and Friends “Searching for the Real Killers” variety hour.

I can’t get enough of Opie and Anthony on WNEW.

The WWF’s reality show, Tough Enough, is tremendous. Sit down and watch it. You’ll forget about Survivor and you won’t have to watch the disaster that is Big Brother.

People, Powerbar is the official bar of St.John’s University, not Gantry’s.

How I wish our student section would be allowed to cheer. The student section could give the Cameron Crazies a run for their money, except that our alumni tell us to “Shut up and sit down!” Why try to be big-time, when mediocrity reigns supreme? Again, that was a rhetorical question. There’s no need to try to answer the question.

Quick note to Glen Sather, the New York Rangers GM: Don’t trade for Eric Lindros. He’s Steve Young on skates. He’s one hit away from sitting in a dark room for the rest of his life-and not the dark room where you develop photos.

Steve Phillips: You did a spectacular job in the off-season. I mean, signing Steve Traschel and Donnie Wall, not finding an outfield bat, or a replacement for Ordonez. Who would’ve thought the Mets would have been in last place? Yet another rhetorical question, there’s no need to answer Met fans-or to jump off the 59th Street Bridge. But you can see a psychiatrist-I already am. Thanks, Steve!

For a team that hates the manager and each other, the Red Sox are doing pretty well.

Well, the Knicks have made Allan Houston the highest paid Knick in team history and signed Clarence Weatherspoon to a free agent contract, instead of signing Chris Webber, someone who could solve the Knicks structural problems. But then, that would make sense.

Talking about the Knicks, I’m glad that they didn’t draft Arizona center Loren Woods. He could have only helped the Knicks fix the glaring hole in the piviot, but instead; they drafted Michael Wright and Eric Chen-o-Stiff. Wright was a good choice; he could be a Charles Oakley type, just without the bizarre comments. As for Chen-o-Stiff, well, he’s going to be the next Luc Longley-just without the championship rings. As a Knick fan, I’m already taking Prozac and Lithium.

Finally to the incoming freshmen, join something! It will make your SJU years go by faster and you will want your SJU years to fly by, take it from a senior who knows. Besides that, you’ll meet some very cool people; people that you will never forget. People that you will be friends with for the rest of your lives. And that, along with getting an education, is the purpose of college.I will read and reply to all mail, including hate mail. The best letters will be posted on the site, along with a response from yours truly. Please e-mail me at [email protected].