Bob Huggins will be suspended by West Virginia University for the first three games of the 2023-24 season and will have his salary reduced by $1 million, in response to his repeated use of a gay slur and mean-spirited crack about transgender people.
In addition, he’ll go through “sensitivity training” by meeting with people from the LGBTQ community, and the athletic department will engage the community in educating coaches and staff.
The agreed-upon punishment and education get one thing very right, and four things wrong. At the end of the day, it’s another slap in the face of the LGBTQ community by Huggins and WVU.
One thing right: LGBTQ outreach and education
When someone uses homophobic and transphobic language the way Huggins did on Monday, there are two elements to a proper response: Education and punishment.
Included in West Virginia’s response is a healthy dose of LGBTQ outreach and education that can have some positive impacts.
“The Athletics Department will partner with WVU’s LGBTQ+ Center to develop annual training sessions that will address all aspects of inequality including homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism and more,” the school said in a statement.
Training sessions can have little impact for a lot of people, but some impact is better than none. Requiring coaches and athletes to engage in these conversations is an important step. Too often people are given the choice of attending these events, meaning they’re often full of people who already don’t need much “training.”
The school goes further: “We want to partner with ACLU-WV, Fairness WV, Morgantown Pride and other organizations to elevate the conversation regarding the issues that affect our state.”
If executed properly, these engagements can be meaningful for people in and around the Mountaineers athletic department, as well as the LGBTQ community in West Virginia.
This part is well-done.
First thing wrong: Putting that $1 million to anything other than the LGBTQ community
The million-dollar reduction in salary next year that Huggins will endure will go to LGBTQ groups... and other “marginalized communities.” The school has already identified a general “counseling” organization as one of the beneficiaries.
This reflects Huggins’ refusal to initially mention the LGBTQ community as the group most-effected by his words in his non-apology statement.
When someone engages in racism, organizations and individuals advancing the needs of people of color should be the sole focus of support.
Yet WVU has done the “all lives matter” thing by taking an assault on the LGBTQ community and lumping in everyone.
It shows the school really doesn’t understand the issues at hand.
Second thing wrong: Huggins needs training
Huggins doesn’t need training to know — ahead of time — that what he said was wrong. This wasn’t him sharing his opinion on something or failing to read the room.
Huggins repeatedly used the worst gay slur in America, then insulted trans people.
He had already sat through a conversation with his friend, Thom Brennaman, about this very thing. Brennaman had already spoken to Huggins and his team about the impact of THIS VERY WORD on both the LGBTQ community and someone’s career.
By placing “education first” in this moment, the school dismisses Huggins’ actions as “uneducated.” He was not uneducated. He knew what he was saying, he knew the potential career-ending consequences of what he was saying, and he said it on live radio anyway. Twice.
Huggins does not need “training” to know what he did.
Third thing wrong: The inadequate suspension
When people have asked me whether the Hall of Fame coach should lose his job, I’ve cringed a bit. I just don’t like the idea of people losing their jobs or careers because of something they said, no matter how bad.
Yet in Huggins’ case — given he had already been informed about the use of this word — I also wouldn’t have shed tears if he was let go.
What I never imagined is that the school would let him off with such a ridiculously light “punishment” in the form of a three-game suspension.
He’ll be back coaching the team Nov. 20, before the meat of the Mountaineers’ schedule starts.
He’ll miss games against teams that last year finished in the RPI rankings Nos. 129, 308 and 215: Missouri State, Monmouth and Jacksonville State. These are all home games, meaning the team will already likely be favored by double-digit points in each game.
No one should be surprised that the school is letting him start coaching for the Fort Myers Tipoff, when their next game could be against Virginia or Wisconsin.
It’s also over a month before they start Big XII conference play.
The punishment doesn’t remotely fit the crime.
“Other schools would have handled this differently, depending on where they are and the community they’re in,” said out gay high school basketball Anthony Nicodemo, who said if Huggins was coaching Syracuse he’d be fired.
“The LGBTQ community just isn’t a priority in West Virginia, so they’re able to get away with a monetary fine instead of firing someone.”
To be sure, if Huggins had used the N-word twice on live radio, then made a crack about Hispanic people, he would already be fired.
Again, I’m not advocating for his firing. But I would have landed on a half-season suspension or even a full season, something he and the program would really feel and that would affect the all-important conference play.
Three non-conference home games against Mid-Majors are a vacation.
“I could coach that team to wins in those three games,” Nicodemo said.
Fourth thing wrong: Huggins is NOT sorry for homophobia
After the school released its next course of action, Huggins shared a statement that apologized to a lot of people, and shared some regrets, but did not name the LGBTQ community or homophobia in that context:
Read it really clearly. He talked about looking forward to working with the LGBTQ community, but he did NOT take any responsibility for the homophobic nature of his comments.
May 10, 2023
This reflects his initial non-apology statement.
Coach Huggins is NOT sorry about what he said, only that he got caught.
While at least one part of the school’s response has a lot of great parts to it, there is a lot that’s woefully lacking here.