Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The More You Know…

Early today, a friend and colleague posted online, on the subject of a recent news item from a town near where he works. Specifically, he was “tempted to weigh in”, but was concerned that “only a combination of the broadcast media and Facebook as a source for my information leaves me potentially under-informed to do so.”

In other words, he was doing what so very few people do, these days: he recognized that he might not have had all the information he needed to make an informed comment, and so he didn’t make a comment.

I’ve trod this path before, but I’ll tread again: the comment section of any online article is not a place you want to visit if you’re heavily into temperate, restrained, thoughtful discourse. No indeed. And neither are talk radio programs, most cable news television chat shows, or the halls of Congress. And, sadly, this is not new. I remember hearing blowhards on the radio when I was ten and thinking, “ya wanna go read up on this before you toss your two cents in?” Or fourth-grader words to that effect.

As it happens, the comments that followed my friend’s post constituted the most thoughtful, measured and civilized debate I’ve read in a very long while. It’s the company you keep, I guess.

 

By coincidence – well, no, actually I should say this: in the world of potential blog topics, I’ve found a curious utter lack of coincidence. Somehow, way too often for it to be statistically likely, I’ll take note of a news item … and then two other way-too-similar ones pop up within the next 12 hours. It’s remarkable…

Anyway, by lack of coincidence, today I took note of a news item having to do with a school where I used to work … involving a gentleman around whom I used to work … and I had to wrestle with several issues at once.

I used to direct the athletic bands at the College of the Holy Cross. I spent a fine four years there, working with some terrific people, in an atmosphere that was assuredly very positive in many ways. And in spite of the relatively smaller crowds that women’s basketball drew, some of my very favorite memories of the Cross came at the Hart Center gym when Bill Gibbons’ teams were squaring off with their Patriot League arch-rivals.

For one thing, the women’s game always seemed to me like purer basketball. The men’s teams played with a ferocity that tended to turn the game into an almost endless succession of slams and bangs, with occasional artistry thrown in. The women slammed less, passed more, and one could almost imagine that Dr. Naismith’s game really had started out looking more like Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo and Elena Delle Donne than it looked like Shaq, LeBron and the Round Mound of Rebound. (Nothing against Mr. Mound.)

Also, from a band director’s (and, I think it’s safe to say, a band member’s) perspective, if the HC women’s team and coaching staff was at all representative of the college women’s basketball community … then I can hypothesize that on average, women’s teams are more likely than men’s teams to give a damn about the band!

Maybe it’s because on average they draw smaller crowds than the men’s games do, so they appreciate anyone and everyone who shows up, and especially the bands that are always on duty, always cheering for them, always making sure that their gym is a miserable place for opponents to play in. And the women’s teams express that appreciation.

An indelible memory, for me, came prior to a league playoff game that Holy Cross was hosting during spring break. As often happens, band alumni came back to fortify the pep band’s ranks while classes weren’t in session, and as we were setting up drums and getting ready to do musical battle, I noticed a nice lady standing next to me, holding a pan of something that smelled very much like yummy baked goods. And that’s what they were. “These are for the band,” she said. Well thank you!, I said, and to whom to I owe thanks? “Oh, I just made up a batch this afternoon. Thought you’d like them. …I’m Bill Gibbons’ mother.”

Okay, let’s be clear. The mother of the women’s team’s head coach just baked brownies … for the band. Not a bad place to do business, eh?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say; Mrs. Gibbons must at least have provided a good example for her son to maybe follow. And her son very often followed it. Before every women’s home game, Coach Gibbons made it a point to walk over to the band bleachers, look up at the kids and call out, “we got ’em tonight, right? We can do this! Thanks for being here! Let’s go!” or something similar. The route from the locker room to the home team bench area did not take him past the band; but he made sure to take that detour.

When I left Holy Cross – not because I didn’t love the job, but because I couldn’t afford to be both a full-time public school teacher and a part-time college band director (the hardest professional decision of my life that was ever obvious), I sent a number of letters to various College “stakeholders”, expressing my thanks for their help in making my experience as good as it was. And Coach Gibbons sent back what was by far the longest and most expressive reply. It wasn’t boilerplate; it wasn’t “here, administrative assistant, send a letter, the usual gratitude template, signed, blah blah blah”. It was “if there’s ever anything I can do for you, just ask,” and it was sincere and genuine. No administrative assistant helped him … his capitalization wasn’t that good.

When I got to see Coach Gibbons at work, which was mainly at home games, he was an intense guy. In the heat of Patriot League battle, he was always working the sidelines, always in motion, always keeping the referees aware of important things, always totally into what he was doing. Nothing was held back – it seemed like the only speed he knew was “full throttle”. And it seemed to me that while he was tough on his players when they needed reminders about things like rebounding, he treated them well in public when they were working hard, even if they weren’t winning (according to the scoreboard) at that moment – and I always got the feeling that with Coach Gibbons, tough love was still love.

 

The news item of yesterday: a former HC women’s basketball player is suing the school, the coach and a couple of athletic department administrators. She is accusing Coach Gibbons of verbally and physically abusing his players at games and practices, and accusing the college of “perpetuat[ing] a culture of denial and feign[ing] ignorance over his actions”. The lawsuit says that this former player “was in fear of physical pain, [and] suffered emotional abuse and fear of retaliation at the hand of defendant Gibbons”, and that her “love of basketball and self-esteem had been damaged.”

As I read all of this in several online articles, I admit that I did so from the perspective of someone who has watched this lawsuit’s main defendant work, who has admired his work, and who thought he had a pretty good sense of what this gentleman was all about. And who was prejudicially predisposed to not necessarily buy everything this former player was selling.

I have never watched a Holy Cross women’s basketball practice. I don’t know whether Coach Gibbons is Dr. Jekyll in one place, Mr. Hyde in another. (Although, if the Coach pleading his case to the referees after a particularly awful call was Jekyll, I suppose maybe I’d prefer not to see Hyde?) I’m not privy to his interactions with his players in the locker room, away from public scrutiny. I simply do not have enough information to feel comfortable saying that the Coach is never ever so intense and out-of-control that he would do things to his players that the lawsuit accuses him of doing. Plus, I haven’t been to a Crusader women’s game for seven years. Things change. People change. Nothing is impossible … although some things are very very improbable.

So here I am … admiring my friend’s ability to admit his incomplete knowledge of a situation and his subsequent decision to refrain from commenting (and to solicit others’ assistance) … while at the same time I’m getting ready to comment.

I am still yet to achieve perfection, I fear.

But at least I know a little tiny bit of something about the man, and his program, and his school.

 

Plenty of online commenters instantly assumed that Coach Gibbons was the worst of the worst. The Midwest area director of an organization which supports survivors of abuse by priests weighed in (without offering any evidence of having conducted any more of an investigation than reading the New York Daily News article). There were the usual yahoo comments by people who were more interested in making a joke than in making a point. One comment wondered how the Coach would be treated in prison (thus bypassing due process and heading straight for “Orange is the New Black”). One commenter said, oxymoronically, “I will await the evidence as it unfolds. But the fact that Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic institution sways me to thinking that the allegations are well founded.” [To be clear, Holy Cross is a Jesuit school, and for many reasons, I suspect that this could be a distinction with a difference.] And one commenter painted with a different but equally broad brush: “Coaches can be such a—holes.”

I bet none of these people had ever seen a Holy Cross women’s basketball game.

In school, they told me: write about what you know.

So okay.

Based on what I know of Coach Gibbons … which may be incomplete knowledge, but it’s all I’ve got to go on, and it’s a hell of a lot more knowledge than is exhibited by the aforementioned parachute-drop artists and trolls … if I learned that he had in fact exhibited patterns of behavior that would merit serious consideration of this lawsuit, I would be surprised and disappointed.

One of his fellow central-Massachusetts college basketball coaches said that Gibbons was “a person who represents basketball the right way, certainly off the court with everything that should be done for your players – getting involved with community service, making sure they’re accountable academically, that they’re representing the college the right way off the court. There is no one as classy a person. If I had two daughters, which I don’t, I would love them to have an opportunity to play for Bill Gibbons.”

It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. From the get-go, Coach Gibbons absolutely struck me as an intense guy. But he also struck me as somebody who cared more about his players as people than he did about how many wins, how many championships, etc. He struck me as a decent guy – as somebody who, if he were about to make a comment to a reporter that he knew was going to draw a fine from the Patriot League, would stop and take a deep breath. He wore his heart on his sleeve … but in my dealings with him, he was nothing but a class act. Intensity … but with dignity.

I’ll be very interested to see what happens here – to see who comes out of this looking good. If the allegations are true, I’ll be disappointed, but such things happen. If it turns out that a reputation is tarnished that didn’t need to be … I’ll be more than disappointed.

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October 18, 2013 - Posted by | current events, news, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] that blog post, I noted that Coach Gibbons was an intense and passionate guy – heavens, all you had to do was watch him […]

    Pingback by Pardon My Gloat -or- So I Wasn’t Crazy « Editorial License | January 14, 2014 | Reply


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