Whiteness wins again.
In the aftermath of the “scrum” that took place on Sunday afternoon between Michigan and Wisconsin — which was ignited by Badgers coach Greg Gard and accelerated by Wolverines coach Juwan Howard — we’ve reached yet another moment in which race is the reason why “justice” wasn’t served.
Howard’s suspension will last for five games, which means he’ll be back for the Big Ten Tournament. He’s also been fined $40,000 for hitting Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft, the Badgers assistant who put his hands on one of Howard’s players, in the face. Michigan will also be temporarily without forwards Terrance Williams and Moussa Diabate, who each received one-game suspensions.
The suspension was inevitable given the optics of the situation. Black men in leadership positions don’t get as much leeway as their white counterparts. This was also the second time that Howard got into a “fiery” situation with an opposing coach of the opposite race during a game. Howard and former Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got into last season during the Big Ten Tournament.
“I am offering my sincerest apology to my players and their families, my staff, my family, and the Michigan fans around the world,” Howard wrote in a statement. I would like to personally apologize to Wisconsin’s assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft and his family, too.”
Note how Howard never mentions Gard’s name.
The Wisconsin coach was fined $10,000 for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy, but nobody on the staff was suspended. Badgers guard Jahcobi Neath is the only member of the program that will miss a game.
Funny how they found a way to only suspend the Black people.
“Neither Coach Gard nor his staff had any intent to provoke or incite any of what took place. I want to commend those on our staff — and student-athletes — who were trying to de-escalate the situation,” wrote Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh in a statement that conveniently forgot to accept any responsibility for any wrongdoings on the Badgers’ part, while enabling their coach again.
Gard has a pattern of getting away with things.
In 2020, Kobe King — one of the few Black players Wisconsin has on its roster each season — abruptly left the program. After having issues with Gard, the final straw for King was when Erik Helland, the team’s former strength and conditioning coach, used the N-word around a group of players.
“I owned it. I said the word,” Helland told ESPN.
Last season, Gard’s program was in the news after a 37-minute audiotape was sent to the Wisconsin State Journal. The audio was secretly recorded when Gard, three assistant coaches, and seven seniors had a “come to Jesus” meeting that got ugly. But, as expected, Wisconsin went into damage control mode and threw their support behind Gard.
In the last three seasons, Gard has had a racist on staff, ran a program so toxic that someone within or close to it, recorded a private meeting and released it to the press, and put his hands on Howard which started Sunday’s “melee.”
But yet, Gard hasn’t been suspended for any of it.
White coaches, like Gard, always get the benefit of the doubt. Last season, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott showed us that he still believes in slavery when he told his team, “Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.” McDermott’s suspension lasted four days.
In 2020, we found out that former Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall was a violent lunatic after multiple allegations that included the choking of an assistant coach, the punching of a player, the body-slamming of another, and the mocking of Native American heritage. Marshall was never suspended for those things, there was just an investigation that led to his resignation and an agreed-upon settlement of $7.75 million.
Last fall, Gonzaga coach Mark Few endangered multiple lives when he was arrested for a DUI. His punishment? He missed two exhibition games and the Bulldogs season opener. Gonzaga was victorious in those three games against the “very stiff competition” that Eastern Oregon, Lewis-Clark State, and Dixie State put up, as the Bulldogs won by a total of 137 points.
The idea that a Black coach like Howard did something so egregious that he deserves a five-game suspension isn’t the issue. It’s that white coaches do things just as bad, or worse, and receive little to no punishment. For instance, in 2012 Mike Rice was initially only suspended for three games at Rutgers before he got fired. However, if it wasn’t for the video of him shoving, grabbing, and throwing balls at players while using gay slurs during practice becoming a national story, you could make the case that Rice might have kept his job.
If we learned one thing from the fallout of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, it’s that Black coaches are the ones that suffer, not the white ones. Black assistant coaches like Merl Code, Chuck Person, Lamont Evans, Book Richardson, and Anthony Bland were the ones that lost their jobs, paid fines, served probation, or face jail time because of the investigation while white head coaches like Sean Miller, Will Wade, and Rick Pitino got off scot-free, just like Greg Gard.
The absurdity of the punishments is obvious, especially when you add the context. But, for anyone that still thinks that this column was written to vouch for Juwan Howard in an effort to absolve his sins, it wasn’t. It was penned to show you that Howard’s actions led to a just suspension and that Greg Gard’s, and other white coaches, are not.