Addressing the violence within collegiate basketball

Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall and former Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers assume familiar poses. Via Peter Aiken/Getty Images and Paul Sancya AP, respectively.

[CW: This article discusses racism and racially charged abuse.]

Wednesday night saw the end of a tumultuous summer for former Penn State Head Basketball Coach Pat Chambers. Allegations emerged in early July surrounding a January 2019 interaction with Rasir Bolton, a Black former Penn State basketball player, during which Chambers—in an effort to console Bolton—expressed that he wanted to “loosen the noose that’s around [his] neck;” Chambers resigned from his position last Wednesday, Oct. 21. For Bolton and his family, this should have been a moment of celebration, one that firmly placed the Penn State administration on the side of justice and not entertainment and wealth. 

The reality, of course, was not so clear. 

Chambers was not only afforded close to three months  with access to his staff and offices to do damage control, or on a more sinister note, perhaps destroy evidence, but his abuse was also not really acknowledged by the institution at all. Rather than Chambers undergoing diversity training, it was in fact Bolton who was sent to a—white—team psychologist, where he was “taught how to deal with Coach Chambers,” which served to delegitimize Bolton’s accusation despite the coach’s obvious history of discrimination. In fact, this all unfolded shortly after Chambers was suspended for one game; he had just shoved Bolton’s teammate and childhood friend Myles Dread, another Black player, during a game. A few months later and a full year before the allegations came to light, a degraded Bolton transferred to Iowa. 

Yet the most brutal reality of all was Chambers’ actual resignation. Rather than the vicious removal of a racist tumor, Chambers was given the chance to resign on his own terms. The 47-year-old white millionaire announced his resignation via Twitter, where he did not mention Bolton and his family, but instead expressed,“This has been an incredibly difficult year for me and my family, and we are in need of a break to re-set [sic] and chart our path forward.” 

Some excused Chambers’ initial “noose” comment as ignorant, that he was a man so steeped in whiteness he could not fathom Black trauma, even if it was a young Black man sitting right across from him. I don’t believe Chambers should still be afforded that privilege—he is a white supremacist. How can he–as a man who has made a living coaching many young Black men–be so viscerally unaware of the consequences of his actions to the point of expressing his resignation as a consequence of an “incredibly difficult year”? How can he not acknowledge the countless Black individuals who continue to be slaughtered fighting for the end of their oppression, refuse to address the present global pandemic that continues to disproportionately affect young Black men and women and not even recognize the damage that his words had on one Rasir Bolton and unquestionably many more like him? 

Pat Chambers was not ignorant. He spent every day of his life surrounded by young Black men who looked to him for inspiration, and he made a living using those young men to elevate his status. His send-off should have been a brutal one; instead he got to leave on his own terms, and unintentionally exposed the racist reality that characterizes collegiate athletics. 

Chambers is not unique in this kind of behavior. On the same day of Chambers’ resignation, C.J. Moore and Dana O’Neil of The Athletic released a detailed report that expressed how Greg Marshall, Wichita State’s current Head Basketball Coach, has spent the entirety of his career berating players with racist taunts and misogynistic language. Most notably, he told one of his Black players that he would “send him back to Africa” if he continued to struggle through practice, and often chose to call players derogatory terms for a vagina if they struggled through practice. 

Unlike Chambers, Marshall continues to be Wichita State’s Head Coach, and in the midst of an investigation by the administration, it seems as if that will continue to be his position for the foreseeable future. Marshall, unfortunately, is allowed to effectively be a racist, misogynoir, oppressive force to his players because he can hide behind the virtue-signaling ruse that is collegiate basketball. Even looking at Marshall’s response to these allegations makes this clear. Rather than expressing remorse for his actions, he elevates them by saying that “Throughout my career as a coach, I have devoted myself to accessing and unleashing the greatness of my players.” 

Beyond the ridiculous assertion that by telling a Black player you would send him back to Africa would somehow access his “greatness,” Marshall is actually not alone in this behavior either. Decades of destructive behavior at the collegiate level now means that within the confines of a practice facility, Division I basketball coaches–over 70 percent of whom are white in a sport where more than half of the players are Black–are given free reign to be as destructive and oppressive as they want. 

The unfortunate truth is that Marshall and Chambers likely represent the majority of coaches, particularly at the Division I level, where decades of romanticizing violent white men like former Indiana Men’s Basketball coach Bobby Knight now means that racist beratings and violent language have somehow become the norm. 

What’s more is that it doesn’t truly feel like change is on the horizon. While many coaches, particularly at liberal arts institutions, have taken a stand against institutional racism and are attempting to end the romanticization of this toxic masculinity, many administrations remain the same—largely white and uninformed. And until momentous change comes from the top-down, the most significant action remains exposing those violent white men who have made a living profiting off of Black bodies.  

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