Friday, March 13, 2020

True Confession: I am a Geno Auriemma Fan

I know exactly when it happened and why. I didn't want to admit to myself that the  contempt I held—that colored my vision and my language—was fading.  That disdain? it's gone. I haven't turned back. Maybe I have softened, but  I have now find affection, respect and admiration for a man I once identified as an arch-enemy (one, two or three). And I believe it's time that I profess this publicly: I am a Geno Auriemma fan.
Luigi "Geno" Auriemma, more often known as "Geno" has been the head coach of the UConn women's basketball team for 35 years. He has led the Huskies to 11 NCAA National Championships, several at the expense of my beloved team, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Furthermore, it is no secret that Muffet McGraw, the head coach of the Irish women's team has no lost love for Geno. In case this was remotely unclear, read what Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote in the article Muffet McGraw, Geno Auriemma: "These Two Plain Don't Like Each Other." I am team Muffet. With two NCAA National Championships to her name, she was the coach when I was a student and continues to march onward to victory, with over 900 wins to her name.
This photo is a lie.
In 2016, a good friend of mine—the varsity football coach at St. Ignatius, shared a video clip of Geno talking about the importance of body language. John said he found it refreshing to hear a coach articulate so clearly what is important. I encourage you to see for yourself , if you haven't already. You won't misunderstand what Geno says; he is pointed and he is principled. If only more coaches were, too....

He declared “We put a huge premium on body language, and if your body language is bad, you will never get in the game. EVER,” he said. “I don't care how good you are.” 

I shared this video clip with my students in the context of a conversation on the importance of body language. I wasn't sure how they would respond. The first thing I heard from a student was "I love it." I wanted to hug that kid that very moment. 
I have continued to pay attention to Geno's words—or is "rant" a more fitting term?— any time I get word of a new one. Just this past week, Auriemma took issue with what he said was a conference request to skip the postgame tradition of shaking hands in order to prevent potential coronavirus spreading. According to the New York Post,
When asked about it following UConn’s 79-38 win over South Florida on Sunday, Auriemma ripped into the new policy. 
“The conference has a policy that you can’t shake hands after games. Well, we did today anyway,” said Auriemma, whose team advanced to the American Conference Tournament championship against Cincinnati with the win. “Our men played Houston the other day. They sweated on each other for two hours and then they weren’t allowed to shake hands. 
“Our assistant, Sarah, her son is a wrestler,” he added. “They wrestled for I don’t know how long on this dirty mat and they go, ‘no shaking hands.’ I mean, come on … Don’t get me started.”
The Coronavirus has led to confusion and mild pandemonium. Clearly we are roaming amidst uncharted territory. What seems most important right now is prudence. Known as the queen of all virtues, prudence is not cautious calculation but practical wisdom -- recognizing and making the right choice in specific situations. No time like the present.
I believe Geno's logic is on point. We ought to realize that athletic contests are joint ventures in the exchange of germs in the form of sweat, passing/sharing the same equipment, contact in close quarters—the locker room, bus and the bench and player-to-player contact. Athletes high five one another. They fist bump, toe tap, butt slap, and even butt heads, intentionally. To take precaution in the form of eliminating a hand shake seems far fetched. You go Geno. That ritual is an important way to conclude a game. It's a shared part of our humanity. We are tasked to look at our opponent, say "thank you" or "good game." Other times, we might not want to say a single thing. If the game must go on, let it go on with integrity.

However, nearly a week has passed since Geno's comment. We know the COVID-19 has presented a much different reality. At this point, most games have been cancelled. There will be no need to shake hands following an athletic contest for we will table those until further notice.

Geno is a straight shooter. I understand the exasperation he often brings to his interview. It's not for everyone but my ear loves it. Brian Murphy of KNBR said "A pissed off East Coast guy is so much better, more effective than a west coach pissed off guy." I agree, I do find him entertaining but more often than not, I find prophetic. I appreciate that he uses his platform as a coach to speak about trends in sports, the character of athletes, problems in our culture that need to be aired, etc. Some might say he is old school, but that might not be a bad thing. Old school can mean—honest, diligent, industrious, and non-individualistic. 

Finally, for a non-pissed off Geno, watch his tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant from the Staples Center. My very favorite part of his speech is when he goes off script and recalls the time Gigi met the University of Oregon women's team. He took notice of her reaction when asked if she wanted her photo taken with them. I have a feeling he would have said the same.

Photo Credits
Muffet and Geno

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