Yes, he said it. In front of a hot mic, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison said the words, "Fuck that n*gga," referring to Frank Kaminsky, the Wisconsin star player who'd just led his team to victory over the Wildcats. By all means, let the outrage, moral indignation and public flogging begin.
Because that is exactly how we should treat these players minutes after they've just experienced what is probably the biggest devastation of their young lives. We should absolutely hold them to standards most of us couldn't measure up to, even decades after we were in college.
As a former NCAA athlete, I could not imagine having someone stick a microphone in front of my face following some of our soul-crushing losses, and that was for a crappy little Division III women's soccer team that no one in the world cared about and never won. How much harder is it to maintain composure when the loss is the most watched television event of the week? When the game puts you one away from a national championship? When you're expected to win and that win would make history? When tens of millions of dollars are lost by those who picked you to win it all, and even more earned by those who are exploiting your talents for their gain, but sharing none of that with you?
If the NCAA wants to continue to maintain the ridiculous fiction that the young men who play the game should not share in the wealth they generate because they are "student-athletes," then for God's sake, start treating them like students. Andrew Harrison isn't even six months past being a teenager. Why is he required to table all of the emotions he must be experiencing and answer questions for the profiteers who enjoy the benefits of his labor, win or lose? Why is he even allowed to do this? If the NCAA gave one cheek of a rat's ass about their players, the losing team would be prohibited from speaking to the press for 24 hours after the game, and the press would be threatened will losing their credentials if they violated that rule. Problem solved!
Yes, it satisfies our deepest desires to savor the agony of defeat on their disappointed faces, but at what cost? Did we really need to see a young man whose college career has just ended explain through teary eyes that, as a senior, he should have known better than commit a goaltending foul that everyone universally agreed was a bad call? When a bashful kid calls a stenographer beautiful, not realizing his mic would pick up the comment and broadcast it to the whole room, it's adorable, but it is also a reminder that: (1) Student athletes are really young, and (2) Microphones can be the undoing of even the most seasoned pro, let alone someone who isn't used to sitting in front of one.
At the end of Saturday's game, long before the unfortunate comment was made, Charles Barkley made the observation that we now live in an age where everyone gets to express their opinions in public forums, and he hopes people will remember to give Kentucky credit for what they achieved this season instead of tearing them down for some perceived failure. I'm sure he had no idea how prescient those words would soon become, but now, they are more true than ever. Andrew Harrison is a kid, and last night was the worst night of his life. Let's give him a break, and the freedom to get it right next time.
Valerie Alexander is an author, speaker, filmmaker and coach in Los Angeles. She grew up in New Albany, Indiana and vividly remembers every men's basketball championship that Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky have won since 1986. She would also remember any Cal championships during that time, but there haven't been any. Go Bears!