Bob Huggins can’t stay at West Virginia after gleefully using slur

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There is nothing particularly complicated about what should happen to Bob Huggins. 

If his boss, West Virginia athletics director Wren Baker, went on a radio show and said the highly offensive, homophobic things Huggins said Monday, he would be fired before nightfall. 

If Baker’s boss, West Virginia president Gordon Gee, had said those things, his tenure would also be over in the blink of an eye.

Heck, if a public-facing employee or executive of any American company said those things, we all know what would happen. 

Why would anyone hold a basketball coach to a different standard? 

This isn’t about wokeness or cancel culture. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue or an innocent mistake. This was a 69-year-old man going on a radio show in Cincinnati and gleefully using a term to describe gay people that was intended to denigrate fans of Xavier University, Huggins’ former rival when he coached the Cincinnati Bearcats from 1989-2005. 

And he did it twice, without even a hint of hesitation or apology as it was happening. 

You may not like where the line has been drawn here. You may have grown up saying that word and don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Maybe you even use it now in private because you believe certain groups of people aren’t worthy of equality. 

But our society, which has come a long way in acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ community but still has miles to go, has decided that slur is no longer acceptable. And so when it is used so callously, so cavalierly and said with the seeming delight that Huggins employed in order to make two lame radio hosts laugh, there is nothing to be done other than the obvious. 

He must go, or West Virginia might as well rename itself University of Bob Huggins. At some point, he may be worth forgiveness and grace on a human level. But as large of a figure as Huggins is, both literally and figuratively in the history of Mountaineer basketball, he cannot remain in his position as the most highly paid public employee of West Virginia’s flagship university.

If Huggins wants to be remembered as a man who valued dignity and honor, he will do it himself and step away. But if he tries to stay, he is asking the people who work with him and the university he loves to debase themselves for his benefit. 

That’s not a choice they should be forced to make because he decided that it was a good day to go on a radio show and have a laugh at the expense of one of America’s most vulnerable groups. 

Huggins is a legend in college basketball and one of the great characters remaining in an industry that has become more buttoned-down and corporate. He can be funny and engaging while also being extremely tough. Huggins isn’t for everyone, but his style has undeniably helped hundreds of players become the best versions of themselves. 

That doesn’t give him a pass on this one. 

In times like this, the most fervent defenders of a high-profile person will point to the good they’ve done in their life, as if somehow that gives them immunity from any mistake. That’s not the way things work. Every person contains multitudes of good and bad qualities, but we all have to live by certain standards. 

Huggins didn’t just go over that line, he did it with his full chest out, as if that phrase were second nature. As much progress as the LGBTQ community has made, what Huggins said shows that there’s still a segment of our population that thinks they exist to be the butt of jokes, because they are inherently lesser than the kind of people Huggins believes are worthy of his respect. 

If West Virginia retains Huggins, its message to LGBTQ students or citizens of the state would be undeniable: The basketball coach thinks your very existence is funny and to be made fun of. How can anyone in a position of power at West Virginia accept that? 

At least the apology Huggins tweeted out did not attempt to make any excuses or say the clip was taken out of context. He has lived in the public spotlight long enough to know how this works.

There is always a certain sadness when someone so accomplished at their craft and so beloved in their profession shows themselves to be a garden-variety bigot. But there was no other way to hear or interpret what he said on that radio show. 

For all the games he has won and the glory he brought West Virginia, he’s not bigger than the school. It would be a sad way to go out, but there isn’t much other choice. If what he said on that radio show would be fireable for any other school employee, it must be for him as well. 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY