By now, you've surely heard about the latest scandal out of Ohio State, wherein a full audio tape of University president Gordon Gee, made during Ohio State’s Athletic Council on Dec. 5, leaked to the Internet, and the world got to hear Gee say allegedly comedic but mostly just ill-advised things about Big Ten expansion and commissioner Jim Delany ("Jim is very aggressive, and we need to make certain he keeps his hands out of our pockets while we support him"), former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema ([Wisconsin AD] "Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff") and the vagaries of negotiations with Notre Dame ("The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week. You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday ...").
Those were probably the more famous among Gee's remarks, which have caused a right proper outrage both inside and outside the Ohio State university leadership. Outwardly, Gee has been on the apology tour for much of the past 48 hours, and while inside the university he's been the subject of harsh reviews of his ability to lead, including a recommendation that he "get help from professionals to revisit his personal communications and speechwriting processes and rethinking what speaking engagements he accepts," which is bureau-speak for we're shutting this guy down.
In all the furor, it might have been easy to overlook the portions of Gee's comments that might have offended folks on the college basketball side. But don't worry; Gee managed to cover those bases, too. Gee also said, because a priority of Big Ten expansion is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity ... you won't see us adding Louisville ... or the University of Kentucky."
Needless to say, Louisville coach Rick Pitino did not much care for Gee's comments. From his interview late last week on WHAS Louisville's Terry Meiners' Show:
"We've been the No. 1 grade point average in the Big East the past three years," Pitino said. "Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. ... Ignorance is not just curtailed to coaches or other people; it's curtailed to presidents as well. President Gee is obviously trying to crack jokes and denigrate other people, and in Louisville -- I can't speak for Kentucky; I'll let John [Calipari] speak for them -- we don't take kindly to those comments, and we're very insulted by it. And when people have to make jokes and denigrate others to get laughter, that means they're truly ignorant of the facts, and certainly he is ignorant of the facts. Really bothered by it."
"What really gets me boiling," said Pitino, "it's not Louisville or Kentucky. What gets me boiling is the fact he knocks the Catholics at Notre Dame. I don't know what denomination he is or what lord he prays to, but trying to get jokes out of that, it really, really boils me. ... It's a pompous attitude and certainly I have a major problem with him, not with Ohio State, and he's a pompous *** for making those statements."
Here's the thing: Typically, I think people are too easily offended. I mean, I get why. Sometimes, people like to get offended. In a world of uncertainty and half-facts, we get to unanimously agree one person or the other is stupid; we get to shake our fists and curse the heavens and ask where the world went so wrong. Being outraged is fun.
That's why I tend to think we can overboard with our outrage on some of this stuff. And that was my first reaction to Gee -- OK, he's crazy, and he should probably be quiet for a few
months years, but was anything he said worse than your average message board comment? Shouldn't we all settle down, and pack a thicker skin next time?
And then I realized: Gee isn't some Internet commenter. He's the president of a massive public university. He's supposed to be idealistically devoted to the continued human pursuit of knowledge, which began with the wheels we would one day use to take robot-selfies on Mars. Gee is supposed to be inspiring. He is supposed to remind you that your college degree taught you more than how to think about your favorite football and basketball teams -- that it taught you how to think about the world and our human place in it.
Instead, this guy is cracking jokes about the football coach firing him. He's acting like a back-slapping bro who just finished 18 holes and a drink too many in the dining room at the country club. He's a glorified fan in a bow tie.
Louisville fans can be mad about the Louisville jab. Kentucky, too. Catholics can be upset by the notion that its men of the cloth are occasionally fearsome negotiators. But to me, that's all small stuff. The big thing about Gee is just how unbecoming of his position his behavior is, and what it says about what major college athletics has done to major college education. That's what's offensive.