St. Bobby of Bloomington.

The entire state of Indiana wasn’t as crazy about former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight as some would lead you to believe, but enough of it was that a made-for-ESPN movie about him required the efforts of features, sports and li’l ol’ me. My assignment is explained in the first paragraph. My only editing change: I replaced the dashed-out obscenities with the real thing.

March 8, 2002

As the person assigned to examine “A Season on the Brink” from the unaffiliated, uncaring, not-particularly-interested-in-basketball perspective, I hate to bring this up, but I have to: 

Is Indiana a state of child abusers? 

One has to wonder, after two hours of watching Brian Dennehy as IU legend Bob Knight, spraying spittle in his players’ faces and calling them 

fucking pussies and worse, all while the entire state of Indiana looks on and smiles benevolently and says, why, he reminds me of my dad, doesn’t he remind you of your dad? 

Or maybe not.

Like all movies, “A Season on the Brink” isn’t an accurate representation of Indiana. A stock shot repeated throughout: The camera tracks through a wintry, rural landscape, cold and forbidding. The sun is as remote as an unkept promise; a solitary cow gazes uncomprehendingly at the camera. Far in the distance, a boy shoots at the netless hoop nailed to the side of the barn. 

If you ever took a film-criticism course, you know what this stuff is called: subtext. And the subtext is, Indiana is a lonely, cold place that only comes alive in winter, in gymnasiums brought to a boil by Hoosier Hysteria. In this Siberian landscape, this tyrant called Bob Knight found his true calling — abusing others — and a willing audience of enablers, i.e., us. 

The film isn’t an accurate representation of Knight, either. While there are several brief scenes of his players’ parents offering testimonials to what a great guy he is, that side of him — the rigorous teacher, the brilliant analyst, the philanthropist who refused to self-promote — is barely evident.

Because this is a movie, and because this is a movie that will “break new ground” with its depiction of non-premium-channel profanity in prime time, what we mainly see are rants. 

Knight got off easy on that point, too. Dennehy is a big, powerful man, but he’s also a journeyman actor with supreme control of his instrument. Having watched videos and heard recordings of Knight out of control over the years, I can report that Dennehy rarely goes there. He yells. He swears. But that screeching edge of hysteria that Knight so often crossed — the kind that shrinks the soul of even someone watching on television — is seen only in the final credits, when we see a montage of Actual Knight Moments.

And the rants, as performed by Dennehy, aren’t the ones that got him into hot water. Because the movie focuses on just one season, we don’t see him facing off with a guy in a restaurant, or flinging a vase at the wall over a 64-year-old woman’s head, or illustrating his point that his players are shit by producing the real article, smeared on toilet paper from his own recent visit to the bathroom. 

No, the Knight we see in “A Season on the Brink” is just one born too late, a Parris Island drill instructor staking out one of the last bastions of real manhood, although the new age of wussiness is drawing closer, populated by “dorks from the chemistry department” and professors — with advanced degrees! — wanting to watch one of his precious practices. “You know what B.S. stands for?” he crows as they file out. “Bullshit. And M.S. stands for More of the Same. Ph.D. is for Piled Higher and Deeper!” So much for that famous respect for academics.

What’s more, we’re given several looks at his tender-bear side with his son, Patrick. He makes supper for Pat, asks after his studies and high-school basketball play, and practically tucks him in at night. “Dad, if I’d been born a girl you’d probably have shoved me back in,” Patrick teases. “Yeah, I probably would,” Dad joshes back. 

After screening “A Season on the Brink,” I spent a bit of time with an odd, double-sided book by Rich Wolfe. On one side: “Knightmares: The Dark Side of Bobby Knight from Those Who Knew Him Best.” Flip the book over, and the cover is “Good Knight: The Good Side of Bobby Knight from Those Who Knew Him Best.” The unintended joke — that even those “who knew him best” can’t agree on whether the guy is good or bad — seems to fly right over the publisher’s head.

A glance at the text, however, reveals the obvious answer: He’s both. 

John Feinstein, who wrote “A Season on the Brink,” sums it up best when he said (in the “Knightmares” half of the book), “Bob Knight is three things, without any debate: one of the greatest coaches ever, a guy who cares as much about academics as athletics in a time when that’s very rare, and a guy who never broke an NCAA rule. But the fourth thing is: He’s a self-righteous guy who thinks he can do no wrong and has a double standard for behavior. You behave one way toward me — respectfully, never rude, always show me respect and loyalty, but I don’t have to return any of that to you because I’m Bob Knight and you’re not.”

It really is as simple as that. “A Season on the Brink,” the movie, doesn’t get there in two hours. I suggest you try the book.

Posted at 12:05 am in Ancient archives |

38 responses to “St. Bobby of Bloomington.”

  1. Dexter said on August 17, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I used to be a disciple of St. Bob, I admit. By 1978 I was sitting in The Checkerdome in St. Louis for the NCAA mens’ Final Four talking with my seat mates, two strangers from Albuquerque , joking that New Mexico just might be far enough away from Indiana and they could have Coach Bob…they laughed and vehemently declined. St. Bob had already become the butt of many jokes all over the land.
    Knight won the state’s collective heart when he came to Bloomington from West Point where he had become head coach at age 24. Boy genius or whatevah.
    I became a rabid fan and on a dare I flew to Philadelphia in 1976 for the final game of the NCAA Final Four at the Spectrum.
    I am not the guy Knight stuffed into a Philly trash can that year, only because I was nearly Knight’s size and there were no trash cans on the sidelines, where I was the fan that rushed the court after the scoreboard read IU 86 Mich 68 and the Hoosiers were champs.
    Right after Knight shook M coach Johnny Orr’s hand , I tried to shake Knight’s hand, just as a jubilant fan. I was out of line, as the video I finally recorded from espn shows, but really not all that much out of line, and Knight tried to shove me, but I was a stocky strong lad of 26 then,. and I didn’t budge as I was called out: “God damn you son of a bitch!”
    Later that night in my horrible airport hotel room, which reeked of diesel fuel , as I paced the floor slugging down Schmidt’s beer out of bottles, I had this horrible epiphany that revealed what a sucker I had been. I had been rooting for a miserable man who I instantly hated from that moment on.
    I became a Michigan fan that early morning in that filthy airport hotel room. I still am.

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  2. Dexter said on August 17, 2011 at 2:48 am

    LA Mary : Watch out, one was spotted in SoCal.

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 17, 2011 at 8:07 am

    As a Purdue grad, I should just be quiet.

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  4. coozledad said on August 17, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I would say Bobby inherited some of that barking asshole routine from West Point, but I’ve seen plenty of sociopathic coaches,who while secure in the estimation of their communities, would have been kicked out of VMI for “excessive camping it up, George C. Scott division”.
    You’ve got to have a mighty death wish to goad a bunch of early adult monsters they don’t even build furniture for. It’s my understanding kids are less agreeable to that kind of coaching behavior these days, resulting in some radical lumbar displacement among the craft’s practitioners.

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  5. adrianne said on August 17, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Bobby is still beloved at West Point, but not as much as Coach K, who succeeded him and is a very successful basketball coach without being an asshole.

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  6. Peter said on August 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Adrianne, there have been plenty of stories that suggest that Coach K is every bit the asshole that Bobby is; the difference being that Coach K is MUCH better at containing his emotions.

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  7. Randy said on August 17, 2011 at 9:36 am

    A Season On The Brink was shot here in Winnipeg, I assume generous tax credits were involved, or something like that. We have a lot of made-for-cable and straight-to-DVD productions made here. I have a friend who worked as a production assistant on the movie, she gave me a framed picture of Brian Dennehy as Bobby Knight, yelling (obscenities?) from the bench. I can’t recall which scene(s) have that picture in them.

    She worked on another movie that starred Shannen Doherty. Every three or four days she had to drive down to North Dakota to buy Shannen another carton of Marlboros. Girl smoked like a chimney.

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  8. Julie Robinson said on August 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

    As a former high school player myself, I was thrilled to be at IU during the early part of Knight’s career, put my name in the lottery for student tickets, and celebrate on campus the national championship in 1976.

    And I will tell you this: Bobby had a great PR team in those years and none of us suspected anything. We heard about his visits to dying children and the millions of dollars he raised for the IU Library. We heard he taught a fantastic class on coaching and that his boys graduated on time from a clean program. We never heard the bad stuff and dismissed his on-court antics as theater.

    My husband is proud to tell the story of playing pick-up ball with a kid and telling him that Bob Knight wouldn’t be happy with his defense, only to find out it was Knight’s son Pat. We loved the guy, and despised Myles Brand for firing him.

    Of course we were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    It was a huge blow to a significant portion of the state, the ones with IU Basketball shrines in their basements and garages and IU flags on their flagpoles. The ones who count down the days until the first game, carry the schedule around in their wallets, and who have an instant bond with other IU fans. The ones who (like Dennis & I) put basketball hoops in their babies’ cribs.

    Some have moved on, some still mourn. Me, I don’t watch much basketball anymore.

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  9. Bitter Scribe said on August 17, 2011 at 10:04 am

    When Knight came up with that famous put-down of the media, “All of us learn to write by fourth grade, and most of us move on to other things,” I wish someone had had the nerve to retort, “Like bouncing a ball?”

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  10. Kirk said on August 17, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Knight = bitter asshole. Screw him. And what a tough but effective way to see the light, Dexter.

    Even though this column was about a movie, I’m curious as to how much hate mail you got from defenders of Bobby the loathsome turd.

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  11. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Schmidts? Insult to injury.Nasty excuse for beer.

    Shit Bob Knight more or less got away with. In the 1999 restaurant incident, Knight also fired a gun over the head of a valet parking guy that tried to intervene, then beat him and stuffed him in a dumpster, according to a SI report at the time. Nasty excuse for a human being.

    He drove away the clearly best player he ever had on campus with his shit-heel behavior, unless you’re one of those deluded IU fans that thinks Calbert Cheaney (Knight’s whipping boy) or Isiah Thomas (Bobby’s little thug, right Roosevelt Barnes?) were better college players than L. Bird. Hey, Knight. What’s up with that?

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  12. Julie Robinson said on August 17, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Not defending Knight here, but Larry Bird dropped out of IU before he ever went to a practice. He couldn’t handle the size of the place and admits it was an immature decision. He spent the year at home before enrolling at the much smaller Indiana State the next fall.

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  13. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 17, 2011 at 11:17 am

    To the Sycamores’ enduring gratitude!

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  14. LAMary said on August 17, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Ooooh! Capybaras! The largest rodents in the world. I’ll alert my cats.

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  15. deb said on August 17, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Dexter, outstanding anecdote. I lived in Indiana for seven years and pegged Knight for a jerk from the get-go (I arrived in ’78), but I didn’t have the backstory or the passion for college hoops to get why everybody seemed willing to look the other way.

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  16. basset said on August 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I come from close to Bird’s part of Indiana, our schools played in the same sports league. got there the year after he did and even without sports I came about half an inch from quitting for the same reason.

    excepting one IDS assignment I never went to a game the whole time I was there, including the 1976 undefeated season.

    never felt any connection to the sports program and don’t understand why I should now… have an IU tag on my car and people ask me how the football and basketball teams are doing, I don’t know and don’t care. it’s there because I was the first one in my extended family to attempt, let alone graduate from, college. even if it did take me seven years on the enroll in a few classes and work two or three jobs plan.

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  17. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    DARPA strikes again. From the Poindexter mad scientists that spent $1tillion on SDI, which doesn’t work even when the tests are rigged from the get-go.

    How the hell much was wasted on thatridiculous toy.

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  18. beb said on August 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    I have only one word for today’s column” “mitchalbom.”

    It will be interesting to see how far Karl Rove will go to disestablish Rick Perry. Some bridges (Ie, Rove) should be left unburned.

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  19. coozledad said on August 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    He could at least have asked for un bouteille.

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  20. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Wrong again, honey. Actually, I think it was Madonna’s birthday.

    Maybe Bachmann was thinking of the great Lee Marvin as Kid Shilleen singing Happy Birthday to Frankie Ballou.

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  21. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Monsieur Depardieu never heard of astronaut diapers, apparently.

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  22. Connie said on August 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    We moved from Michigan to Indiana back in 83 and the whole basketball thing seemed odd to us. We hated Bobby from the get go. We were less than an hour from Bloomington and everyone in our new town was a fan except for us. As if having degrees from Michigan and Michigan State didn’t get confusing enough my kid is now in grad school at IU. Who do I root for? Butler

    We moved from Ann Arbor to Columbus as newlyweds, and got great joy out of being there for Woody Haye’s firing. We had far more joyful schadenfreude for Woody’s firing than we did for Bobby’s.

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  23. Kirk said on August 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Woody’s firing was even more fun than the forced resignation of Slick Jimmy Tressel.

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  24. Dexter said on August 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    april glaspie you sometimes amaze me…how the hell do you know about Roosevelt Barnes?

    Barnes was one of my favorite players to ever come out of Fort Wayne high schools (he went to Wayne H.S.), and I used to drive down there to see him play basketball. I saw him a couple times around the arenas and had a little conversation with him once about general basketball topics…he was articulate and serious and one of those kids anyone could see was going to make it big.
    I am a Detroit Lions fan and it was such a kick to see him play for those four years with Detroit. Yes, he switched gears and dedicated his sports life to football, starred for the Purdue Boilermakers and then was drafted by Detroit.
    After pro sports he returned to Fort Wayne and hooked up with famed Fort Wayne athlete (Concordia H.S., Purdue University) Eugene Parker (agent for Deion Sanders) and became a sports agent himself.

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  25. Julie Robinson said on August 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    BTW, Dexter, I’ve been clicking on Facebook links from the New York Times all month long without running aground after 20 stories. You can get more by liking the individual sections of the paper on FB. You are restricted to the links they send you, but you can use your 20 freebies for other articles. For now, it’s a good work-around for me.

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  26. Dexter said on August 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks, Julie. I’ll try…I have been clicking on to other papers lately. I hate those sites like sf dot com and cleveland dot com. I love the way I can navigate the sites of the other NY papers so easily, and the LA Times is easiest of all to just go to and find out what’s up.

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  27. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Reminds you of your dad? My dad would never have humiliated me or any of my brothers in front of a national audience the way Knight did to his kid. Hellon earth, and the definition of a scumgag’s scumbag. He deliberately hung his own kid out to dry to augment his legend. What an asshole. What a piece of shit. This is basically inconceivable. Pere Karamazov could not have imagined anything so agressively embarassing. What sort of fucking monster? Died in the wool Nixonian and Raygunphile. if my kid can’t cut it, i cut him loose. And that is Loose, like, free, for you internet idiots that think it’s how you spell lose, meaning not win, and write little green footballs in mom’s basement.

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  28. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    One despicable ahole. And Jim Tressle? Holy shit what a lying sack of shit. Georgia grad and died in the wool Georgia fan. Last year AJ Green, best player in the country, sat out four games, because he needed money for his family and sold a jersey. Dawgs season was trashed. AJ was dragged through mud. Pryor and Tressel and OSU have beenU and Miami. He was a kid that sold his own shirt to somebody that was not an agent by any stretch. Even the way the NCAA would stretch things. My favorite story about the NCAA is the story of Jamie Ponsoldt. Jamie was a student of mine at Cedar Shoals HS in Wthens (the real Athens) GA. He was an astonishing student and a superb football player. Despite what many people may think, intelligence and good student performance are not mutually exclusive. That attitude is so dumb it’s hard to even consider. If you ever even played good HS football, you know it is complicated. If you don’t, shut the fuck up. You don’t know what you are talking about. I was an English tutor for the UGA athletic department. Ever deal with some dumbass TA that could not write her way out of a paper bag. Me neither. But these assholes spite about athletes was neon. They hated these student athletes for being better than they were about all kinds of things. The bias was so revolting, I’d write something perfect for one of my kids, and get back some horseshit about punctuation, diction, whatever, from assholes that could not write their ways out of a paper bag.

    The active dislike for scholarship athletes that were good HS students is revolting. The envy and moronic dislike is hard to comprehend. Somebody is an automatic asshole for being a good athlete? This fucking annoys me immensely. I was a more or less brilliant HS student. Merit Scholarship, All Fives on five AP. Yadda, yadda. Fact is, if I could figure out a way to take those standadized tests for you underacchievers, I’d be richer than Trump. Easy as pie.

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  29. april glaspie said on August 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    No shit , Tressel thought it made sense to screw over AJ. @hT lying Ak of ahit. Seriously? Some offense by AJ? These people are idiotic beupnd ontent. Kiss my qaa. you RW LYING LIKE A BASTARD CUNT’S ARE STILL RULING THE WORLD.

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  30. Sherri said on August 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    And let’s not forget that Knight had to be hustled out of Puerto Rico when he was there coaching the USA basketball team after he assaulted a police officer. Puerto Rico actually tried to extradite him for years. It’s ridiculous that Indiana enabled Knight’s antics as long as they did.

    I didn’t see the movie, but I did read the book “A Season on the Brink”. Sounds like it was much better than the movie, even if it was the last book Feinstein wrote that I liked.

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  31. Deborah said on August 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Prospero, I looked up April Glaspie on Wikipedia and found out that she was the Ambassador of Iraq during Bush 1, and that by her words to Saddam she basically green lighted his Kuwait invasion. Why do you use that Nom de Plume?

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  32. Kim said on August 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I love well-done columns like this where the tourist checks in on what the natives are saying and why.

    Bobby Knight was one of the better Halloween costumes in (I think) 1985. Everyone, even those who didn’t watch college hoops, knew who the costumed guy was. When asshole becomes icon, I guess.

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  33. brian stouder said on August 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Everyone, even those who didn’t watch college hoops, knew who the costumed guy was.

    Kim – and indeed, I truly believe that Mike Pence became an Indiana Member of Congress (and probably shall be our next governor) mainly because he looks just like Bobby Knight.

    I think his whole Indiana political career is based on being an idealized Bobby Knight; a winner who doesn’t drop the “F”-bomb every other sentence. Bobby could have been governor of this state, except I don’t think he’d have wanted the pay-cut, nor the actual responsibility that comes with…what do they call it?…. oh yeah – public trust

    And for that matter, there’s a white-haired guy named Swan, a news anchor at WTHR Indianapolis, who also has affected the Knight-look

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  34. basset said on August 17, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    >>They hated these student athletes for being better than they were about all kinds of things.

    maybe watching someone get a free ride for being really good at some highly specialized form of manual labor had something to do with it, ya think?

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  35. alex said on August 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm


    I too was surprised that april/prospero knows who Roosevelt Barnes is/was. As someone absolutely indifferent to IU basketball (who attended IU) I knew of him an entirely different way. “Rosie” senior, his dad, was part of the family at Lincoln in Fort Wayne where my dad worked. As corporations go, it was once a pretty tight-knit place, and everyone knew everyone.

    I saw that Brian Dennehy movie, I think more out of curiosity about how IU would be depicted than anything else. Didn’t really pay half a mind to Bobby Knight until it was reported that he roughed up a student who’d been disrespectful and then some woman employed at IU (a lawyer, if I recall) came forward alleging some nasty things he’d done to her.

    Never understood what all the passion was about IU basketball. But then I’ve never understood unflagging political and religious affiliations either, or craziness over alma maters, but they seem to be part of the same pathology. In fact my parents, both IU alums who voted for Obama this last time around, were perplexed last time they went down for a game as to why so many in their cohort remain strident Republicans and talk utter nonsense when it seems to them that anyone with even the tiniest lick of common sense couldn’t possibly support the GOP at this time. One of my dad’s old buddies, who retired a millionaire and likes to hunt, has long been a dupe of the NRA even thought he’s an otherwise brilliant lawyer. Go figure.

    When I was a student at IU in the ’80s, being a Republican was a fashion statement more than anything else. After a decade of kumbaya liberalism it seemed like the shocking thing to do, the new mohawk, as it were. God I was a naive little punk.

    As for Canada being a cheap destination for cinematography, I learned all about that in the advertising biz back in the ’90s. That’s where all of our shoots took place.

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  36. brian stouder said on August 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    One of my dad’s old buddies, who retired a millionaire and likes to hunt, has long been a dupe of the NRA even thought he’s an otherwise brilliant lawyer.

    One day at work, I leafed through NRA’s monthly rag, which someone left in the break area. The thing couldn’t have been more ridiculous if it had been a parody publication.

    One article in it, wherein readers submit their most satisfying hunting experience, was from some bent-dick guy, including a photo with him and a large deer that he had bagged in a “hunting reserve” (I gather it was a fenced facility – like shooting fish in a barrel – but maybe I mis-interpreted the thing). The dead deer had unique antlers, which were bunched somewhat directly above his head, and in the caption I learned that the deer had been nick-named “Don King”, for that reason.

    I’m sure that if you inferred racisim from that oh-so-clever joke/name, you’d be hissed at by the loyal readers. Every other article was indeed overtly political, and unswervingly and explicitly anti-Obama, and generally anti-government.

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  37. Dexter said on August 18, 2011 at 12:42 am

    alex, my older brother who is a progressive liberal and was a former SDS member way back in the 1960s, still laments a little because he couldn’t use his academic scholarships at IU just because he had transportation issues and it was easier to catch rides to Ball State University. His class was the first; before 1965 it was Ball State Teachers College.
    He held his ground, being the only, yes only long-haired male on the entire campus in Muncie. At times he longed for the perceived liberalism of IU—he simply thought he would have fit in there, and he sure as hell didn’t fit in at BSU.
    Well, after being caught with a can of beer in the dorm for the second time, he faced a dilemma: he was at the dean’s mercy, expulsion or be granted a third strike.
    The dean scared the shit out of him when he asked Bob “…do you like to travel? I mean travel a lot and see the world?”
    And Bob said yes, playing along, and the dean told him that was good, because if he fucked up just one more time he (the dean) would personally work with the DeKalb County draft board to ensure the drafting of brother Bob.
    So Bob’s radical appearance went away, a short haircut was the main thing, and the entire wardrobe was replaced one article at a time. He continued in his rock and roll band until graduation, playing lead guitar, but the days of his being called “Alice” and his being threatened constantly by the Neanderthal students at that school were over.
    Now you say that it became stylish to become a republican at IU? Jesus Christ. Oh well.

    Also, I heard a gay wedding on my XM radio yesterday. Frank DeCaro and Jim Colucci of XM-Sirius OutQ station were wed on-air.
    It was perhaps the first gay radio wedding in history? I was listening to XM 105 and they switched over to OutQ for the recitation of the vows and the tributes and promises. This happened in New York City so it’s legal.
    I never had heard of the couple before, but congratulations anyway.

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  38. moe99 said on August 18, 2011 at 2:07 am

    Looks like the Univ. of Miami has eased the heat on OSU in the NCAA infractions arena:

    NPR’s Tom Goldman just spoke with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. As Tom said, it’s not just the “impermissible benefits” [the NCAA’s term] that players are alleged to have received that make this a huge story. Those include “cash, jewelry, prostitutes, bounties for injuring opposing players, paying for an abortion for a stripper who was paid to have sex with a player.”

    The alleged misdeeds “go miles beyond the recent infractions reported at Ohio State or USC,” said Tom.

    Then, he said, there’s “the scale. … [This] allegedly went on for about eight years … [and] involved over 70 football players and other athletes” and perhaps a half dozen coaches.

    NPR also mentioned that the Athletic Director of Miami was involved and spoke out publicly about the NCAA sanctions against OSU at a time he probably knew Miami was in deep trouble.

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