An Open Response to John Feinstein

In response to the Top-10 Detractors page, John Feinstein wrote in the December 30, 1997 issue of Basketball America an editorial [Reproduced printouts since the serial (and thus website) is now defunct (1) (2) (3)] which attempts to ridicule the page. While the major intent of the web page is as a source of information/amusement for UK fans and college basketball fans in general, I realized as the page developed that is was just a matter of time before some of the principal characters would be alerted to its presence. With that in mind, I had hoped that if they did happen to venture upon it, they would recognize it as simply one fan's opinion. They may not agree with it, they may know that the evidence cited on the page was not intended as a slight toward UK, or they may even not have realized that UK fans had that perception about them. It's simply an opinion. In response, they could ignore it, they could point out the inaccuracies or they could adjust their own actions or attitudes to correct something which may have caused them to compromise their positions of public trust and fairness with the public. They could even reply directly to me to set the record straight.

While Kentucky fans seem to enjoy the page, there have been a number of fans who have taken exception to parts of it or pointed out inaccuracies. I have tried to address their concerns and have come to change my opinion on a number of issues due to their responses. On more than one occasion, a fan of a rival school has helped locate important information which has increased the quality of the page. The result has been that a number of fans have contacted me letting me know that while they may not even be fans of UK, they found the page interesting and informative (although they didn't necessarily agree with all the opinions). No one has ever contacted me suggesting that I had been unfair concerning John Feinstein. In fact, everyone who mentioned Feinstein was unanimous in their distaste for his attitude and remarks. A few University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill fans even wrote saying that they wish they had a similar page for Feinstein because they believe he belittles their program too. With all these factors in play, I never expected the type of unprofessional response that came from the "professional" journalist and writer John Feinstein. This page is designed to be a direct response to that editorial. I've decided to present it in a style of providing direct quotations from parts of the article followed by my responses.

Background: - It needs to be noted that John Feinstein is the most important member of the Top-10 list. The simple reason is that he has been such a prolific and constant critic of the University of Kentucky. When I came up with the concept for the page and began writing, I picked a few likely candidates and did some very basic research to see if I could back up my preconceived ideas about them being "detractors" with any evidence. Some people, I couldn't find any information and dropped them from the list, some people, I eventually changed my opinion about them and also dropped them from the list. Others, I was able to obtain some amount of information, some fairly weak, some strong. Against my better judgement, I left a few people on the page who probably don't deserve the honor based on the evidence I have to date, notably the Gumbel brothers and hoops recruiting guru Bob Gibbons. This was partly because I yielded to the conventions of todays society to tend to collect and count things which correspond to the number of digits we see attached to our hands. Added to that was the thought that dangling those people out there might motivate someone to provide evidence where I had failed. Typically, I collected some evidence, wrote it up in a couple of neat quotes and paragraphs and forgot about it. I never expected the page to require much modification or additions once it had been written. Sometimes I would run across a passage in a book or magazine, or learn something on Cat Chat or another online source which led me to modify part of the page but typically the additions were finite. Feinstein, on the other hand, proved to be an amazing source of continuous rants against Kentucky, dating back to situations which occurred in the 70's which is covered in the book Forever's Team and continue to this day. His section of the page continued to grow and grow until it literally dwarfed the other sections.

Another important distinction between Feinstein and many of the other "detractors" is that the others had stopped criticizing Kentucky in the 1990s when it was clear that the program was following the rules of the NCAA and doing a very respectable job with their players as student-athletes. Only John Feinstein and to a much lesser extent Sports Illustrated continued to criticize UK on a continuous basis. SI tended to try and suggest that past transgressions by the University were somehow still relevant to the current program. Feinstein did this too, but went way beyond that to criticize everything about Kentucky, from their coach, their style of play, their fans, even their uniforms at one point. The most damning example from a UK fan's viewpoint was after Kentucky won the national championship in 1996 and Feinstein wrote "Kentucky winning is nothing more than a triumph for all the things that are wrong about college sports." although it could very easily have been the time Feinstein suggested Kentucky fans are willing to murder opposing players. It's baffling to me how someone of such a supposed high position of trust in American sports society can be so pathological about a particular University, but Feinstein has continued his crusade and appears, based on his editorial and his most recent book, A March to Madness, to want to continue the course.

The Response

John Feinstein: - "And the award ? Drum roll please . . . No. 1 University of Kentucky Detractor ! Thank you, thank you very much. I'd like to thank the Academy, C.M. Newton, Little Ricky Pitino, the late Adolph Rupp, the late Joe B. Hall (whoops, I got confused there for a second) and, of course, all the fans out there who made this possible. And I want to thank all the bitter people who made this possible. Without them, I'm nothing"

JPS Response: - I assume Feinstein's talking about me as one of the people who are bitter. I'm not bitter, disgusted maybe, but not bitter. I simply took the time to compile some of his quotes (which were easily obtainable BTW). In most cases, I enjoyed putting together the material which comprised the page and enjoyed having people correspond about and contribute to the page. For the Feinstein section, I actually felt embarrassed at times to see some of his rants, especially when I glanced through Forever's Team due to the large number and obvious mistakes found in the chapter on the UK-Duke National Championship game. (The account by Feinstein in his book is so inaccurate and out of sequence that I got a headache just forwarding and rewinding the videotape in order to piece together what Feinstein was attempting to convey. I ended up abandoning that chore so what is included on the page by no means contains all the errors he made.) I'd also like to point out that I've tried to restrain my comments on Feinstein on his unprofessionalism along with his lack of journalistic integrity and research skills. I have not resorted to personal attacks and insults which Feinstein has already delved into in the first few paragraphs of his editorial.

John Feinstein: - "Needless to say, she was impressed. Especially when she discovered after down-loading the material that I rated six of the 14 pages of rants, while the nine runners-up combined only got eight."

JPS Response: - First, the large majority of the material on the page consists of direct quotes by the people themselves (especially with respect to Feinstein) so to label them "rants" seems only to indict his own work. Secondly, the large amount of material attributed to Feinstein is simply due to the fact that only Feinstein has been such a prolific critic of the University of Kentucky. I don't have any problem in continuing to add Feinstein's rants to the page as long as he continues to produce them.

John Feinstein: - "Some of the crimes committed by the nine who don't wear the crown included Packer's unwillingness to label Little Ricky the greatest coach of all time; Sports Illustrated's insistence that Kentucky might have broken a rule or two through the years and that Adolph Rupp might have been just a tad racist and Ryan having the audacity to write a column picking Massachusetts to beat Kentucky in the 1996 Final Four."

JPS Response: - 1.) The page itself admitted that it is certainly valid to consider other coaches superior to Pitino. It was only noted than in relation to the basic stance of Billy Packer with respect to UK over a period of decades that it might be considered a slight. 2.) Sports Illustrated went further than insisting that "Kentucky might have broken a rule or two through the years." They devoted an entire cover story to it and have continued to repeat the charge over an extended span of years, often at times when the relevance to the current story is tenuous at best. The same can be said regarding Sports Illustrated's treatment of Adolph Rupp. Curry Kirkpatrick's unsubstantiated assertion that "Rupp's politics leaned toward the KKK" is certainly stronger than accusing him of being "a tad racist" as Feinstein states. 3.) Nowhere does Ryan get criticized for picking an exceptional team such as the 96 Massachusetts team over UK as Feinstein implies. Ryan was included because of his disparaging remarks about Kentucky's style of play, depth, and fans.

Countering Feinstein only requires reading what Feinstein describes and comparing what was actually said on the page itself. The same opportunity has been afforded to readers of the web page as a concerted attempt has been made to fully reference all quotations. It's unfortunate that Feinstein didn't provide the same courtesy to his own readers by including the web address in his editorial.

(Another point that Feinstein seems to have missed is that the page was never intended to be "only" filled with material that might be considered "damaging". Part of the purpose of the page is to inform, entertain and even provide some humorous moments. Therefore simply because information that has no bearing on a person's perceived bias is present, it's not meant to suggest that these are failed attempts at criticizing someone. This point has obviously been lost on Feinstein, probably since most of the examples in his section do consist of him criticizing someone.)

John Feinstein: - "I guess I should consider myself fortunate that the guy didn't notice that I picked Kentucky to win that Final Four. If he had been paying attention, he might have decided that I had a non-East Coast attitude and jumped Ryan ahead of me in the rankings."

JPS Response: - It's amazing to me that Feinstein can write such a large number of remarks against UK and feel he doesn't deserve any scrutiny. He then turns around and feels that he deserves some type of award for picking to win a championship, a team which had clearly shown that it was the most dominating team in college basketball during that particular season.

John Feinstein: - "I don't think Ryan was a threat. You see, the guy (or guys, I really don't know if this was compiled by one guy with no life or if he had help) quotes at length from a couple of my books to prove that I have been guilty of Kentucky nay-saying for years. Of course, he's absolutely correct. I plead guilty, 100 percent guilty."

JPS Response: - Again, Feinstein resorts to personal attacks. In comparison, I've tried to consistently limit my criticisms of him to his professional conduct and journalistic integrity. It appears to me that Feinstein believes that sports fans should simply read (not to mention pay good money for) books, magazines, newspapers etc. and listen to television and radio their entire life and leave the meaning, content and discussion to "professionals" such as himself. If someone takes some time to present their own point of view and back it up with a little evidence, they have "no life," according to Feinstein.

Feinstein goes on to acknowledge that he has been a detractor of UK over the years. This really begs the question of what he's complaining about in his editorial. If the point of the article is that the page is factually wrong, he failed to even attempt to demonstrate how it was incorrect. If the point of the article was to suggest that the page is unfair to him, he failed to refute the most blatant evidence, choosing instead to pick on minor examples (and failing to convincingly refute even that). If the point of the article was to claim that he never intended to criticize UK, he didn't provide any evidence to support it. So once again, what was his point ?

My guess is that Feinstein is not upset at being labeled a "detractor", of which he freely admitted. I believe Feinstein is upset at being confronted with such undeniable evidence that he has allowed his distaste for UK to color his own "professional" work in print and on the air over a period of decades and that someone actually had the gall to notice it and present it to the world at large. In relation to the others on the list, it is starkly clear, not only in the amount of evidence he has provided, but by the fact that of the people on the list, only he lectures on journalism (of all things) at the college level (and at a distinguished University to boot). A rival coach is expected to be able to make criticisms with a certain bias, a sports columnist is expected to bring his own perspective to his work. But someone with the responsibility that Feinstein is entrusted with in terms of journalistic integrity should be held at a higher level. Unfortunately, he's proven to be at a much lower level. Feinstein apparently believes that once he attains some level of respect at the professional level as an author/journalist, he is beyond reproach. I beg to differ.

John Feinstein: - "Here are a couple of examples of what he takes to be really unfair shots at his beloved Wildcats: 'Joe B. Hall, Rupp's successor was a bland, humorless man who could keep the Kentucky fans happy only by winning the national championship.' And the inaccurate part of the sentence is . . . ?"

JPS Response: - I never claimed that all the examples on the page were "really unfair". I also never claimed that they were all "inaccurate". In this case, I do believe Feinstein is inaccurate in calling Joe B. "humorless", certainly after but even while Hall was the UK coach, although he might be considered "bland" by some. (After all, it was Hall who came up with one of the best college basketbal lines of all-time when asked who should replace legendary John Wooden at UCLA, Hall nominated himself, noting "Why ruin two people's lives ?") But that's besides the point. This is simply an example of Feinstein choosing to take a shot at the Kentucky coach. By itself, it doesn't mean diddly, but over the course of Feinstein's writing, it simply lends more evidence to the emerging pattern.

John Feinstein: - "Later, my new-found friend quotes this sentence: 'Arkansas was coached, ironically, by Eddie Sutton, who would become Kentucky's coach seven years later and eventually resign after getting caught up in the swirling scandal that was bound to catch up with Kentucky's program sooner or later.' Again, I'm a bit baffled. Oh, I know, the part about a scandal being bound to catch up with Kentucky. Silly me. After all, there's never ever been any evidence of scandal or cheating at Kentucky. Why isn't Kentucky known as the Harvard of Lexington ?"

JPS Response: - See above. I didn't claim there was no evidence of scandal of UK. I only presented it as evidence of Feinstein's tendency to slam Kentucky at every opportunity. Feinstein could have written 'Arkansas was coached, ironically, by Eddie Sutton, who would become Kentucky's coach seven years later' or even 'Arkansas was coached, ironically, by Eddie Sutton, who would become Kentucky's coach seven years later and came a game away from returning them to the Final Four in 1986' but Feinstein chose the above. Again, that's fine when taken by itself, but in relation to Feinstein's non-stop barrage over the years, it only reinforces the pattern.

As far as the remark about Kentucky being the "Harvard of Lexington", it's yet another example of Feinstein's [reflexive ?] habit of slamming UK at every turn. I never claimed that UK was on par with Harvard in the academic realm. (Kentucky, after all, is a state school.) (As an aside, I also don't subscribe to the theory that there are no smart and successful people who come out of weaker public schools, while students at a prestigious institution are automatically superior. Frankly, meeting people who subscribe to that theory tells me more about that person than anything I would have concluded from knowing which school they attended.) It seems Feinstein is trying to imply that distinguished schools don't have problems with scandal and cheating. My only response to that, in light of Duke's recent problems over the years with its basketball players and academic fraud is, "John, you really don't want to go there."

John Feinstein: - "There are also quotes from A Season on the Brink, most of them coming from Bob Knight's mouth. Knight is No. 3 on the list, but I guess my repeating the things he had to say makes me guilty too."

JPS Response: - This is misleading at best. The quotations in Feinstein's section of the page consist of Feinstein's writings. The quotations from the book in Knight's section were direct quotations from Knight's mouth. There is no overlap and to suggest that Bobby Knight's comments were lumped with or attributed to Feinstein is disingenuous.

John Feinstein: - "Later, a "contributor," to the web site quotes from a column I wrote in the Washington Post after Kentucky had lost a Final Four game to Michigan in 1993."

JPS Response: - The page clearly shows that there is a section between the quotation and what the "contributor" had provided. Besides that, the text had changed from plain text to italic and there was a bar separating the two. How someone could surmise that it was provided by the "contributor" is beyond me. The quotation from the Post is self contained and fully referenced.

As a side note, Feinstein is actually correct, in that the "contributor" did originally mention that particular instance along with the others but it was not verified and the full reference was not included at the time. Only after I verified the quote and found the full article and reference did I decide it was better to provide its own space on the page. (Once it has been independently verified and referenced, I feel it is immaterial to outside readers who provided the original scoop unless the contributor shows a strong desire to want to be named, which is rare.)

John Feinstein: - "Finally, another contributor proudly notes that when I jokingly referred to Kentucky's 1996 uniforms as being, 'Carolina blue,' during a speech inducting my friend Dave Kindred into the Basketball Writers' Hall of Fame, that C.M. Newton got up and stalked out of the room. It's true, Newton did get up and stalk out and I pointed out to everyone there that he was leaving. Of course the uniforms were Carolina blue and the clothing rep who came up with them just happened to be Newton's son -- not that there was any nepotism involved. Not that Newton was just a tad sensitive on the topic. Boy, did he show me getting up and leaving like that."

JPS Response: - Whatever

John Feinstein: - "There's more -- a lot more -- some of it twisted, some of it factually inaccurate, but who am I to argue ?"

JPS Response: - Actually Feinstein could have sent me an email letting me know what he disagreed with or what was inaccurate, just as numerous other fans of UK (and rival schools) have done. (There have been a number of mistakes found on my web pages in the past and I certainly expect to find more.) There was never a need to argue or whine. I do find it interesting that in my page, I provide explicit examples where Feinstein made inaccurate statements while slamming Kentucky and each time pointed out what was incorrect [sometimes in painstaking detail]. Feinstein above, states that parts of the page are "factually inaccurate" yet neglects to even come up with a single example.

John Feinstein: - "Most of his [Bob Gibbons] anti-Kentucky bias is ascribed to his loyalty to Dean Smith and North Carolina, just as much of my bias comes from being, 'a proud Duke graduate.' (I am proud that I graduated from Duke. How the school feels about that fact is another matter.)"

JPS Response: - The reason Gibbons was included was not based on his ties to UNC. That information was simply provided to set the stage and provide background information to the reader. The reason he was included was because it is felt by some UK fans who follow recruiting closely that Gibbons adjusted his ratings of high school players in part on which school they chose (better if they picked UNC, worse if they picked Kentucky). The evidence to back that up is pretty flimsy, granted. It is left to the judgement of the reader, as with all the sections, to determine whether there is some validity to the claim or not based on the material provided (and hopefully any additional material the reader can provide to me).

As far as how Duke feels about Feinstein, I wonder that too. Since the information has been put together in one place, I've seen a number of Duke supporters who used to admire John Feinstein become embarrassed by his quotes and unable to defend him. I also have to wonder about the quality of education the students are receiving when it is Feinstein who is lecturing them :-).

John Feinstein: - "So here's how it breaks down: I am anti-Kentucky because I went to Duke; Knight is anti-Kentucky because he's the Indiana coach; Gibbons is anti-Kentucky because he's a Tar Heel; Ryan is anti-Kentucky because he's from the east; Denny Crum is anti-Kentucky because he coaches at Louisville; SI is anti-Kentucky because it is sold in the other 49 states and the Gumbel brothers are anti-Kentucky because of 'their criticisms over the years concerning Adolph Rupp and his racist attitudes.'"

JPS Response: - First, the page doesn't claim that all of the above are "anti-Kentucky". It claims that they have been perceived to be a "detractor" of the program at some time in history. Secondly, the synopsis that Feinstein presents insults the intelligence of his readers. The people named above weren't included on the list based on the reasons supplied by Feinstein, they were included on the list based on the reasons supplied on the page (which Feinstein not only failed to accurately relate to his readers but also neglected to provide a convenient link to). As stated near the top of the page anyway, most of the above wouldn't even be considered as current "detractors". It is only due to the efforts of Feinstein and to a lesser extent Sports Illustrated that the page is not an historical artifact of past times but a continuing testament to media bias.

There are plenty of rival coaches who weren't even considered for the page. Not because the rivalry wasn't important enough to Kentucky fans but simply because those coaches have too much class and/or tact. And that's not to say they have never criticized Kentucky either. They simply have criticized Kentucky when they thought is was fair and refrained otherwise. Who could ask for more ? The same can be said for other professionals such as sports columnists and television commentators. It is expected that they criticize at times and praise at times but often with the trust from the public that they remain largely unbiased. Only those who it is felt abused this privilege at some time were considered for the page, and that's the kind of litmus test that puts people like John Feinstein in contention.

So here's how it breaks down: If you've read the original page, you'll note that Feinstein decided to skip the most powerful examples and chose to talk about some of the lamest criticisms or quotations (and a large amount from other sections of the page other than his own). He failed to refute anything on the page and basically admitted that the page is correct, while throwing out personal insults toward people, whose apparent crime was in collecting his numerous rantings.

As a parting question, there are plenty of people who do professional work with integrity and class in a field as subjective as covering college basketball. Why can't John Feinstein even try ?

Written by - January 3, 1998

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