LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- They asked Rick Pitino today what he thought of the shootings last week in Connecticut. I guess this is what we in the media do now. John Calipari was talking about the end of the Mayan calendar earlier this week. Pitino was riffing on gun control today.
These guys are major figures in our state, which I suppose makes what they say news. And they're both wonderfully articulate, which I suppose makes what they say interesting.
But when it comes to politics, what they say is also, to borrow a phrase, one man's opinion. I tend to tread carefully in these areas. I've long been critical of media who rush to celebrities for sound bites on every social and political topic. I don't then want to turn around and be a media person who does the same with basketball coaches.
I can tell you, after speaking with Pitino at some length on subjects outside of sports, he has a wide range of interesting and insightful opinions. I've particularly enjoyed listening to him give opinions on specific politicians in terms of their leadership and public presentation. That kind of critique, coming from an accomplished coach, is actually pretty enlightening. But it's also not what you come to this web site for.
I'm including Pitino's comments on Connecticut in full at the end of this story. But I didn't want to make a political discussion the central feature of this particular collection of thoughts.
Pitino was perhaps at his most effective today when talking about the impact it must have to lose an elementary-age child, and when Pitino speaks of this particular tragedy, he comes with some insight. He and his wife Joanne lost an infant child in 1987. Pitino also lost his best friend and brother-in-law, Billy Minardi, on the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
"I can't fathom and imagine losing an elementary school child," Pitino said. "I can't fathom. I'm not sure I could ever coach again. I don't think I ever could, or it would take me a long time. It took me a long time after 9-11 to mentally get back."
-- While Pitino was talking about losing a child, I was thinking about one of our own in the Louisville media. Howie Lindsey and his wife Stasia last week lost a baby girl in the eighth month of Stasia's pregnancy. As hard as it has been for all of us to watch the events in Connecticut, it seems to me every news report and discussion of these things would be harder on them. Howie's a good man and a responsible member of the local sports media scene here, and our thoughts should remain with him and his family.
And while on this subject, I need to mention someone else. I was supposed to chat with Bob Valvano on radio today, but did not. Bob suffered a heart attack on Thursday. He's doing all right -- well enough to wax eloquent about his experiences on Facebook, in fact. But he's lucky he didn't get on the plane he was waiting for at the airport. Doctors told him he left the scene momentarily during a procedure and had to be shocked back to life.
Just a few days earlier, SI.com had named Bob its national sports media voice of the year. If it weren't such a serious subject, I'd accuse Bob of taking the Sports Illustrated jinx to a whole new level.
Valvano's humor and intellect make his show both locally and nationally must-listening. It's always a pleasure to talk to him, because I never know where the discussion will end up. The sports media landscape locally will be much richer for his speedy recovery and return.
-- And now, as they say sometimes on TV, turning to sports. Pitino said a few things about Gorgui Dieng and the health of his wrist today. He revealed that Dieng has been able to throw and catch passes in practice.
I'm not a doctor, but I say all signs are pointing toward Dieng playing against the University of Kentucky on Dec. 29. And one of the biggest signs is one Pitino gave my WDRB colleague Rick Bozich after practice Thursday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center: Dieng's parents are coming in from Africa for the UK game.
My money's on him playing.
-- Politics aside, Pitino was extremely complimentary of Western Kentucky's overall program, said that Hilltoppers coach Ray Harper is an "accomplished" coach and that he expects a tough game, regardless of WKU's injury situation. He referenced last season's tough game that WKU gave U of L in the KFC Yum! Center.
"He's a proven coach," Pitino said of Harper. "He's won a championship at the other level. I really think that was a perfect hire for WKU. More than the fact that he's an outstanding coach, what he has done with the community and former players, he's having a Ralph Willard Day for taking them to the Sweet 16, he is a great believer in history and tradition and isn't looking to move up the ladder, he believes in Western Kentucky, so I thought it was a great hire."
But Pitino didn't stop there. He went on to praise WKU's hiring of Bobby Petrino in football.
"A lot of people thought that Bobby Petrino hire in football was strange and that they were going to take a lot of criticism," Pitino said. "Well I can tell you one thing about criticism, it goes away. For those people who throw stones, they're going to go right to heaven, but for the rest of this world that does not, Bobby Petrino is one of the greatest football coaches I've ever witnessed. Those players that are going to get to play for him are very fortunate. He's an offensive genius. So Western took a big chance, but in the long run it's going to pay huge dividends for their football program."
-- And finally, as promised, Pitino's full comments on politics and gun control. Offered here without commentary or commercial interruption. Pitino was asked about Jim Boeheim's pro- gun control comments from a couple of days back. He said he hadn't heard them, then was asked for his own take on the subject of gun control, and gave it:
I was thinking the other night about my brother-in-law (Billy Minardi, killed in the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center). We toasted him at my house in a big party afterward. And there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss him terribly. He was my best friend in life. It was too short for him to go, but he had so many years. I can't fathom and imagine losing an elementary school child. I can't fathom. I'm not sure I could ever coach again. I don't think I ever could, or it would take me a long time. It took me a long time after 9-11 to mentally get back.
The fact that every single person does not want (gun control) would be a mystery. This is not the beginning of American civilization where we need guns because it's the wild, wild west. And we're not talking about a hunting license. There should not be guns in our society. We all know that, and all the politicians know that. But I can tell you one thing about politicians -- this is not the era of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. This is, I study politics, I love it, what goes on between Congress and the senate and the ultra-left and the ultra-right is so absurd it's ridiculous. They all should be voted out. Every person that goes too far to the left or too far to the right and does not want to do good for America should be immediately voted out. Nothing will change, in my estimation -- and then we'll get out of politics -- until there's term limits. Until there's term limits you won't get rid of these people. All they do is build up their war chests and just go for their party lines. They don't care about doing right for America. If they were doing what's right for America, that next day (after the Connecticut shootings) America would demand gun control.
But more important than that, I don't know how anybody lives in those (victims') families. I don't know how anybody closes their eyes for the next, you know … There could be no good that comes out of that except immediate gun control. Because all of us, who are not even related to those children, shed a tear all the time thinking about it.
Question: I guess you didn't hear the NRA press conference then?
I don't care about those people (the NRA). Those people have their own agenda. They'll give you excuses about how it's just an insane person and that's not the way it is. We don't need guns in our society. Bob Costas took a lot of heat for what he said (in favor of stricter gun laws). What was he caring about, people not getting killed? Nobody's going to take away your hunting license. This is not Wyatt Earp going down the street that you need to have a challenge. I don't have any respect for people with their own agendas and not our country's agenda.