And The Walls Came Tumbling Down - A Review
I had been expecting the book, for quite a while. You see, I wrote a web page a number of years ago about the misconceptions today's media has foisted on the public concerning legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp and his legacy concerning race. To my continual amazement, this topic continues to revive itself among fan discussion groups and the major media, despite the fact that Rupp has been dead since 1977 and most all of the important events occurred a decade previous to that. As information continued to roll in, I naturally added parts here and there, and the page has taken on a life of its own. Along the way, I ran across an intriguing article in the El-Paso Herald Post (September 24, 1997) stating that a free-lance author was writing a book on Don Haskins and Texas Western's historic victory over Rupp's Kentucky squad for the 1966 National Championship. I even wrote at the time a note to the publisher, Random House, to please forward the web page address to the author so he would know that there ARE differing opinions about Rupp and the game, not just the one which has been cultivated by a few journalists over the years. So as I said, I had been expecting the book. But this was not what I expected. The book I had expected was a 300-page tome by Sam Tanenhaus; And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (1999, Simon & Schuster) was an unexpected contribution from journalist Frank Fitzpatrick, a long-time staffer at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As I read "Walls", however, I realized very quickly that this book, although the author did a thorough job of research, is hopelessly flawed. The author is so narrowly focused in his desire to paint Rupp as a staunch racist that he fails to grasp the complexities of the man and of the time. Fitzpatrick seems to take nearly every opportunity to taint Rupp, using just about every piece of evidence he could find to bolster his case. Since most all of the evidence he used can be found fully referenced on my web page, I find myself in the unique position to be able to comment on this book with some authority. I was outraged enough by the author's selective use of evidence, his flippant dismissal of valid evidence which directly contradicts his basic premise, his constant attempts to assume the worst about Rupp while assuming the best about others including Texas Western Coach Don Haskins and the UTEP program, that I felt it necessary to write a timely book review before too many people wasted their money on this book as I unfortunately did.
This book also presents me with an opportunity to discuss what I believe is an extremely important point to make which extends beyond this topic. Fitzpatrick appears to want to present his book as a great testament to the struggle toward civil rights for black Americans. I disagree. I believe Fitzpatrick's book is actually a perfect example of how the drive to present a predetermined story leads to a simplification of the events, and a less than genuine effort in describing or understanding the times the characters lived. This practice is, in the end, false and self-defeating. It's my opinion that Fitzpatrick's efforts actually cause readers to not fully appreciate the tribulations black athletes and students all over the country had to deal with in their drive to attain equal status in this nation's universities and sports programs, and completely misses the fact that in many areas of society, the goal has still not been fully reached.
| The Format | Approaching the Topic | Assuming the Worst | Assuming the Best | Playing the Mindreader | Misreading the Times | Beating a Dead Horse | Less Than Authoritative | Unrealistic Criticisms | Exonerating Texas Western | Questionable Diversions | The Battle Over a Legacy | Failing The Ultimate Purpose | Conclusion |
This review is not intended to be a thorough discussion of whether Rupp was racist or not, my web page is provided for those who are interested to make up their own minds based on the evidence. There will be a number of times, however, when appropriate parts of the page will be referenced or hyperlinked so that the supporting evidence can be reviewed in depth. This review focuses on the book itself and its flaws in making its case without allowing for any serious consideration of conflicting evidence, the author's consistent choice in assuming the worst about Rupp and Kentuckians in general, and the oversights and absence of evidence made by the author to support his predetermined conclusions. The form of this review consists mainly of examples from the text, grouped into various main themes.
Approaching the Topic
I would like to begin this review by pointing out that the author has basically written the wrong book. The concept is commendable, but the execution has led to a completely different book than what was perhaps intended. The three important books which need to be written IMO about the 1966 National Championship game between Texas Western and Kentucky are 1.) the incredible journey and sheer joy experienced by Texas Western to overcome all the stereotypes and win the national championship; 2.) the story of an amazing group of undersized collegians who came together after a disappointing season the year before to form an excellent and memorable team, only to fall uncomfortably into the midst of a far larger issue, in which they were pawns and 3.) the effect of this particular game on the attitudes of many inside and outside college basketball and how it shaped, and in many ways forced, the irrevocable changes seen in college athletics, especially in the South. The first book has already been written by Ray Sanchez, titled Basketball's Biggest Upset and published in 1991 by the Mesa Publishing Company. The second book has not yet been written although one of a handful of local Kentucky writers would seem appropriate. The third book seems to be the book Frank Fitzpatrick was initially aiming for. However, because he has spent so much of the book basically trying to vilify Rupp and at other times overtly praising Western Coach Don Haskins, Fitzpatrick really only spends the last chapter actually describing what effect the game actually had on society, and even that seems like an attempt to spite Rupp. The result is less than satisfying.
Fitzpatrick does present a lot of evidence pointing out that the society in the 60's was very ignorant of civil rights. He even relates a personal story at the very beginning of the book of how he didn't even consider Texas Western as a serious contender for the crown, due in large part to their racial makeup. It is actually at this juncture where I believe Fitzpatrick made a fateful misstep in his book. If he had gone on and described why a presumably open-minded and bright high school student would have such a preconception of Texas Western's chances, he would have gone a long way in relating to his readers the state of the times and how this affected the way blacks were treated in college and in society as a whole. With this as background, the story of the championship run could be told and followed up with how the victory literally changed perceptions all around the country.
Unfortunately, this is not the path Fitzpatrick chose to take. Instead, the author chose to present a villain in the person of Adolph Rupp who he proceeds to blame for just about everything that was wrong with the lack of integration of basketball in the South at the time. In order to accomplish this, the author had to willfully decide to ignore much of the evidence which is contained in many of the references to the game and freely available to anyone who knows how to utilize a search engine. The author should be held to this knowledge, especially since he admitted to the "search for every written word about the game" (pg. 6). But despite the fact that there is a mountain of contradictory evidence concerning Rupp's views on race, the author chose one side only.
"I think he [Rupp] was a simplistic figure. I think he saw things in black and white, no pun intended." - Frank Fitzpatrick in article by Billy Reed, Lexington Herald Leader, "Historic Game Revisited," February 28, 1999, pg. C3.
It is this choice which IMO dooms the book from the start.
Assuming the Worst
There are numerous examples where the author chooses to assume the worst about Rupp, the University or even Lexingtonians or Kentuckians in general. Unfortunately, the casual reader may not catch a number of these since the author, despite obviously reading much background material on the subject, fails to provide the references for his facts. As someone who has seen many of the references first-hand, I can hopefully fill in the important bits of information that the author chose to neglect. Some of the examples are simply the author using his own prejudices against Rupp to take a shot at him, even when he should be deserving some praise. The following is an example.
"By the early 1960s some Southern schools dared to play integrated opponents away from home - some, like Kentucky, even played those games in their own arenas. 'Although Rupp was at best a paternalist in race relations, he and the university viewed the scheduling of an occasional interracial game as the price of success,' wrote historian Charles Martin. Rupp never publicly aligned himself with the Deep South schools' segregationist posture. He had little respect for Southern basketball, always looking North and East when he sought a challenge. When Kentucky began to play integrated opponents, it was one more thing he could lord over his SEC rivals. 'We play teams from the Big Ten and the Missouri Valley Conference who have Negro boys who can jump a mile,' Rupp said, 'and we hold our own.' It was the perfect situation for Rupp. He could use black athletes to build up his own program without having to recruit them." - (pg. 46)
Fitzpatrick criticizes Rupp throughout his book almost without fail. In doing so, he takes some common beliefs about the Baron but overgeneralizes. In the below instance, Fitzpatrick no doubt relied on Dave Kindred's now famous quote "Adolph Rupp won  games and lost none. It was his players who lost those 190." And while it is certainly true that Rupp was not very accomplished at taking a loss gracefully, I have seen from going through old game summaries that he did give due credit and took due blame at times.
"The winningest coach in college basketball history at the time of his death lost, on average, fewer than five games a season in his forty-two years at Kentucky. All, he believed, were caused by his players' mistakes, incompetent officials, or bad luck." - (pg. 86)
Fitzpatrick even takes issue with Rupp's oft-noted penchant for superstitious beliefs, his most famous being his wearing of a brown suit to games, a topic which is recounted fondly in just about every in-depth article or book on Rupp. In Fitzpatrick's view of Rupp, this story seems to take on almost-evil connotations.
"As a solemn young Freeport (Illinois) High School coach, when his team lost a game they should have won, Rupp blamed the blue suit he wore." - (pg. 87)
The next quote is a very curious example of Fitzpatrick not allowing the facts to interfere with his own preconceptions about Rupp. He describes the 1948 Olympic Games when the United State sent a team consisting of players from Kentucky, the Phillips Oilers (an AAU team) and a few other AAU players to London where they won the gold medal. Fitzpatrick does note that Rupp had Don Barksdale on the team, making him the first black player to play on a US Olympic basketball team. Although Fitzpatrick isn't clear about it, Rupp was officially the assistant coach of the Olympic team, since Bud Browning's Oilers team won a head-to-head matchup in Madison Square Garden 53-49. Fitzpatrick also seems to make another possible mistake in his rendition of the events by suggesting that Barksdale was a member of the Oilers.
"Among the Oilers was a black, Don Barksdale, a former college star at UCLA." - (pg. 132)
Barksdale played for the Oakland Bittners (an AAU team), not the Oilers, and was one of the four at-large players to make the team. The reason this is important to point out is that Barksdale was 'chosen' to be on the team rather than earning the right by virtue of being a starter on one of the teams which won the tournament [Kentucky and the Oilers]. This bit of information, which Fitzpatrick skillfully avoids, directly contradicts the basic premise of the book.
Fitzpatrick goes on and 'assumes' that Rupp and Barksdale might have had problems although the author provides no evidence whatsoever of such a thing occurring.
"Rupp played Barksdale regularly during the Olympic team's series of exhibitions and in London. If there were ever any problems between the ex-UCLA player and the coach, who had never had a black on his bench up to that point in his long collegiate career, neither man ever mentioned them and no one else noticed." - (pg. 132)
The problem is that an article was published about Barksdale which discussed this very issue. As mentioned on my web page, Barksdale was very complimentary of Rupp and is quoted as saying that he [Rupp] "turned out to be my closest friend" during the stay in London. So not only does Fitzpatrick overstep his bounds in this case, based on nothing but his own preconceptions, he is completely wrong. Probably the most galling tidbit in this whole story is that the article about Barksdale was published (albeit from a news service) in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1984. This is the exact same time one Frank Fitzpatrick was also working at that very newspaper ! Of course, it can also be noted that Fitzpatrick utilizes the qualifying word "collegiate" in the above quote which allows him to avoid the fact that Rupp had coached at least one black player prior to the Olympic games (at Freeport High School in the 1920s).
The next quote suggests that Rupp did not play against in-state schools for fear of competition and loss of recruiting prestige. There is certainly some truth to that, however Fitzpatrick sorely misstates Kentucky's scheduling philosophy under Rupp. If he had taken the time to look at the schedules under Rupp, especially postwar, he'd be hard pressed to find one with many patsies. To suggest that Rupp avoided teams like Louisville or Western in order to play against easier competition simply ignores the reality of Kentucky's schedule. It should be noted that earlier in his career, Rupp did coach against in-state schools but often became frustrated by the lack of competition it provided his teams. As mentioned in Russell Rice's book, "After Kentucky beat Georgetown 41-12 in the traditional opener in 1933, Rupp had said playing the Tigers was like shooting squirrels in Woodland Park." ("Adolph Rupp as I Knew Him," (pg. 77)). Rupp was well known for seeking out the best competition for his team, a point which is well supported. To suggest otherwise, as Fitzpatrick does, is misleading.
"In his [Rupp's] forty-two years at Kentucky, he never played a regular-season game against any of the three colleges [in-state Western Kentucky, Louisville and Eastern Kentucky] For one thing, he could always find a less-challenging patsy somewhere else, and, for another, he didn't want to help them get any publicity that might aid their recruiting." - (pg. 195)
The first part of the next quote I believe is an affront to anyone who has worked a lifetime to achieve greatness in their profession. Fitzpatrick may believe this but I don't for a minute.
"It had always been easy for Rupp. But now eight years had passed since his last national title and people were starting to whisper about his age and outside interests. He wanted this fifth NCAA title to shut them up." - (pg. 206)
The next quote deals with the signing of Kentucky's first varsity black player, Tom Payne.
"Despite the continuing pressure and the constant prodding of Johnson, and, to a lesser degree, Hall, it would be more than three years before Rupp finally signed his first black player. On June 9, 1969, Tom Payne, a 7-footer from Shawnee High School in Louisville, agreed to come to Kentucky. The announcement was made in the player's living room, where the coach posed uncomfortably with the family." - (pg. 222)
Tom Payne signs with Kentucky
JPS Note - Fitzpatrick notes elsewhere in the book that Earl Cox thought Rupp looked uncomfortable that day and maybe he was, but I can't tell it from the picture as Fitzpatrick seems to be able. As recounted on my web page, Russell Rice goes into rather vivid detail about that day in one of his books and it seems to contradict Fitzpatrick's version.
The next passage deals with the adding of two black walk-ons to UK's squad during Rupp's last year. As mentioned on my web page, they joined after consecutive losses early in the season. What I have seen about this topic suggests that they were added for depth to a team which was riddled with injuries and not quite up to par with typical Kentucky squads. Fitzpatrick indicates (according to what basis he doesn't say) that they were added to the team simply to make the team appear more "contemporary", a form of tokenism that Fitzpatrick and others have criticized Rupp for NOT participating in in the past. Another point which should be made, which Fitzpatrick missed, is that Darryl Bishop was more than just a "basketball player in high school", he had been a former Parade All-American in basketball and was an integral starter on the 1969-70 UK Freshman team so he did have prior experience with the Kentucky system and the coaches. Stephens played an important defensive stopper role against Al Sanders in a critical game against Louisiana State.
"[Tom] Payne's premature departure meant that once again school officials were embarrassed by Rupp's all-white Wildcats. ... So [assistant Joe B.] Hall found two black football players who had been basketball players in high school, Darryl Bishop and Elmore Stephens, and convinced Rupp to add them to his team. While they played sparingly, they at least gave the Wildcats a more contemporary racial look." - (pg. 222 - 223)
In the next citation, Fitzpatrick begins to make a case that Rupp was against dunking because it was somehow tied to the emergence of black players. While it is true that Rupp generally didn't permit his players to dunk during games (something which was a generally held belief by coaches at the time), he held this belief far before black players became a force in college basketball. It also seems to be an overstatement that Rupp was entirely against dunking as he allowed it in practice. I do know that in the early 50's (at a time when dunking was almost unheard of), 7 footer Bill Spivey, one of the greatest big men to play during that time (at any level), stole the ball from Clyde Lovellette and ignited the crowd, most of whom had never witnessed such a thing, with a memorable slam. Spivey remembered "I stole the ball from Lovellette under the basket and it took me only about three bounces of the ball to get to the other end and I went up and slammed it through the basket. I just couldn't help it. I was so fired up I even beat the guards downcourt. The fans went crazy. They went absolutely wild." (Winning Tradition, by Bert Nelli, pg. 68) In another instance, Marion Cluggish recalled how in the late 1930's he used to dunk in warmups prior to games, with Rupp's blessing. Rupp thought it a good tactic for Cluggish to dunk prior to the game, to scare the opposition. Before a particularly important game held in New York's Madison Square Garden, Cluggish attempted to dunk and missed his attempt leaving Rupp to scold his giant center. Again, that's about all the information I know dealing even slightly with how Rupp viewed dunking in collegiate basketball, but it certainly doesn't indicate Rupp was completely against dunking and it's simply a stretch to assume that whatever concerns he had about the shot were racially motivated.
In the citation below, the author again chooses to assume the worst about Rupp. I think it's at least more likely that Rupp would have been upset if ANYONE was able to score so easily on one of his players (who obviously must have missed a block-out assignment). To attribute this to some form of racial bias against dunking by Rupp (as Fitzpatrick proceeds to do) is questionable IMO.
During a freshman game at Kentucky that preceded the ban, [Perry] Wallace once slammed home a rebound over future Wildcat superstar Dan Issel. "For some reason, Rupp was in the stands watching the game and he just threw a fit. Maybe he just figured that it wasn't good fundamental basketball," said Wallace. - (pg. 240)
Fitzpatrick lays his claim in the following, and extends it to suggest that Rupp was instrumental in outlawing the dunk as Lew Alcindor gained eligibility. Again, the author seems to prefer innuendo and his own predisposition against Rupp to press his case in lieu of any real evidence.
"The ban [on dunking] was one of the first volleys in the battle between the freer, more improvised style of play many blacks favored and the more controlled game that white coaches like Rupp had been demanding for decades." - (pg. 240)
"Rupp had been a powerful member of that committee for a long time," said Wallace. "I'm not saying the decision was racially inspired, but I would love to have been able to hear the discussions that took place on the day dunking was outlawed." - (pg. 241)
Despite what is claimed by Wallace, Rupp was not on the committee which voted to outlaw the dunk.
Fitzpatrick does not save his accusation of racism for Rupp only. He also lumps in Lexingtonians and Kentuckians in general. Below are a few examples from the book.
"Though [Texas Western President Joseph] Ray, who died in 1991, saw himself as a liberal - and for a Kentuckian of his generation he probably was - his views on race hardly qualified him as enlightened." - (pg. 109)
Fitzpatrick makes some valid claims about Lexington during Rupp's tenure and its inherent divisions by race. What I don't see in the book is an acknowledgement that this situation was in no way different from just about every city in the United States at that time, and even today. Not that this fact makes it right, but that singling out Lexington for criticism by Fitzpatrick is unwarranted IMO. I would also respectfully suggest that Mr. Fitzpatrick take a close look at his own community and see what similarities he sees today with the Lexington of the 50's he describes and is so intent on criticizing.
"By 1956 most of its [Lexington's] residents - its white ones anyway - lived quietly in well-preserved homes on tree-shaded streets." - (pg. 122)
"Less than a century after slaves had been sold at the busy Cheapside auction, Lexington's blacks remained economically bound to wealthier whites." - (pg. 123)
The author goes on to describe how the move of an IBM facility to Lexington brought in transplanted northerners who were pleased with many aspects of the town but were disturbed by its racism. Again, I really don't have a problem with this if only the author would acknowledge that racism was pervasive throughout all of society, rather than try to suggest that it was an attitude confined to Kentuckians (not that he states this but the continual tone of the book might lead one to think so). After all, IBM in the 50's, 60's and 70's is hardly the first place I think of when I imagine examples of racial equality. An example from the author where he seems to suggest that the North deserves praise for its position.
While I agree with using Michigan and Illinois as academic models, I disagree with the assertion of them being good racial models in the 1960s. Having attended Illinois and having nearly attended Michigan if I had remained in the state, I can personally attest that while they were more advanced than say, the University of Kentucky, in terms of race relations during the civil rights era, both institutions were and are still today places where the black student is underrepresented and often isolated from the main. I applaud the strides that have been made and generally agree with the author that they deserve some recognition when compared to other schools, but I also recognize that there is still a long way to go, even today, for all the schools. In a nutshell, if Fitzpatrick is going to look back at the University of Kentucky in the 1960s and compare it to today's standards in order to criticize it for being racist, he should at least acknowledge that the Illinois' and Michigan's of the 1960s would also be considered racist by today's standards.
On the flip side, I also find it interesting that while Fitzpatrick tries to draw a line in the sand between Kentucky and its northern neighbors, he dismisses out-of-hand claims, which he attributes to Rupp, which try to draw a line between the atmosphere in Kentucky with the atmosphere in the Deep South. This next example is strange in that the author takes issue with Rupp over a technical detail but at the end, essentially agrees that whatever protests occurred were minor. [Again assuming Rupp actually said this, I've yet to see such a reference and even if there is one, I am not convinced Rupp was talking about the University and not the basketball program.]
"Rupp liked to boast that integration had occurred there [Kentucky] without incident. It was another example of wishful thinking.... (At least two crosses were burned after their [Lyman T. Johnson and twenty-nine other blacks] admission, one on the front lawn of the administration building, the other at a university-owned farm. While both were attributed to the local Ku Klux Klan, such incidents were, of course, minor when compared to the Deep South's subsequent reaction to integration." - (pg. 128)
One final example, which I included simply because I so strongly disagree, is the characterization that Fitzpatrick gives of Memorial Coliseum, the home of the Wildcats between 1950 and 1976 and where they won over 90 percent of their home games. I have seen a handful of other campus gymnasiums which were the contemporaries of Memorial and I have yet to find one as majestic, as well-designed or as full of history as UK's. I can also say that I am always more in awe when walking through Memorial than I've ever been walking through Rupp Arena, a far larger place. Fitzpatrick describes it this way.
"Empty, however, there was something cold and lifeless about the old facility on Euclid Avenue. Perhaps it was its concrete drabness and its size. Or maybe it was because it had been built to honor nearly 10,000 Kentuckians killed in World War II, their names inscribed on bronze plaques that hung like stars on the gloomy corridor walls. The basketball court itself, unadorned but for a modest blue "K" at its center, was surrounded by a half-dozen rows of folding chairs. Above it, tier after tier of plain wooden benches rose on an angle like stairways to the darkness."
JPS Note: Having a great-uncle who gave his life for this country and whose name is now listed in Memorial, I have never been struck by the impression of Memorial as cold and lifeless as Fitzpatrick has. I have just the opposite view, in fact, as I always feel a sense of pride and honor as I walk through what I consider to be hallowed halls.
Assuming the Best
While Fitzpatrick seems to assume the worst about Rupp and ridicules his reasons for either not recruiting or signing black players earlier than he did (along the way dismissing the recollections of anyone who knew him and tries to stand up for him), Fitzpatrick seems to embrace the recollections of those who knew then-University president John Oswald who was a bitter rival of Rupp. From what I have read about Oswald, I believe he had the best intentions in mind when it came to improving the quality of education and the integration of the University of Kentucky. I can also say that if I had been a student at the University during the 1960's, I'd certainly be in favor of the goals of what he was trying to accomplish. But when you look at his actions under the same type of probing that Rupp has been placed under by his critics, the work of Oswald isn't exactly stellar and he shares some of the blame when it comes to the failure to integrate the basketball program IMO. I also cannot support Oswald's and other Rupp critic's beliefs that it would have been acceptable to recruit a black player who wasn't clearly capable of succeeding both on the court and off. Some argue that Rupp was just looking for excuses, and they may be right, but I take the view that Rupp recognized that if a black player was to represent the University of Kentucky in the mid-60's when he travelled to the deep South, he had better be someone who can stand up under the pressure and represent the Commonwealth well. That's why I believe Kentucky recruited such student athletes as Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, Perry Wallace etc., and also why Rupp didn't fill their heads with lies about how easy being a racial pioneer in the South would be, as apparently Fitzpatrick and Rupp's other critics would suggest he should have done.
Below are examples of how Fitzpatrick mentions John Oswald. The first example demonstrates how the author seems to take great stock in Oswald's daughter's view of Rupp's recruiting, which is interesting when compared to how other's, who were much more knowledgeable of college recruiting in general and Rupp's recruiting in particular, information is dismissed anytime it corroborates Rupp's difficulties in signing blacks.
"'Rupp wanted a superstar who would sort of bow down and thank him for bringing him to Kentucky,' said Elizabeth Browne, [UK President John] Oswald's daughter. 'And my father realized that just wasn't going to happen.'" - (pg. 139)
It's interesting to note the reversal in theory that Fitzpatrick takes when it comes to how much power Rupp wielded. In other parts of the book, Fitzpatrick claims include that "Rupp's intimidating power had been as immense as the fictional tycoon's [Citizen Kane]" and "Rupp possessed the means and opportunity to alter the world he ruled" among others, yet when it comes to something positive which clearly occurs directly within Rupp's field of power, such as hiring an assistant who would be better equipped to signing black talent, it seems all the credit goes to Oswald. Fitzpatrick doesn't even try to explain this one.
"He [Oswald] hired Joe B. Hall, who had experience coaching blacks at Regis College and Central Missouri State, as a basketball assistant, specifically to help recruit black players." - (pg. 141)
It's also interesting to compare the actual amount of effort which was expended by the two men in recruiting. Rupp made an attempt with Unseld and seems to have done a much more thorough job recruiting Butch Beard. Rupp recruited many other black athletes in the 60s, some personally, some through assistants, although I don't have the information detailing exactly how much effort was expended on each recruit. But the fact is that Rupp did spend some time personally recruiting black athletes. Despite this, most of his critics still seem to believe he didn't recruit any blacks before Tom Payne. Conversely, Oswald made a single visit to talk to Unseld throughout his tenure as UK president and he and Fitzpatrick apparently believe Oswald should deserve accolades for his effort. As far as the suggestion that Rupp should have gone with Oswald, anyone with even a slight knowledge of Rupp's pride and stubbornness could tell you that after the first rebuff, there is no way in hell Rupp would make a second trip to Unseld's home. If Oswald was expecting otherwise, he certainly didn't know Rupp very well.
When Rupp failed [in recruiting Wes Unseld], Oswald, who thought the intelligent Louisville high-schooler was the perfect barrier-breaker, tried himself. Rupp apparently refused to join him so Oswald, accompanied by Lancaster, made an unprecedented visit to Unseld's home. "The mother and father were very gracious to me and he was too," recalled Oswald. "He said, 'Thank you for coming but I've already decided to stay in Louisville.' He didn't say he wouldn't go to Kentucky. He had an opportunity to say some nasty things about Rupp or Kentucky, but he did not say them. I was halfway expecting him to say, 'I wouldn't play under Rupp.'" Unseld's decision frustrated Oswald, who never again imposed himself so intimately in recruiting efforts. - (pg. 145)
"Dad felt Rupp had sort of undermined his efforts with Unseld," said Oswald's son, John. "I mean here was Dad in his [Unseld's] living room and Rupp wasn't with him. It was almost as if Rupp were sending a message by his absence. He [Oswald] had put his prestige and commitment on the line and Rupp had sent an assistant." - (pg. 145)
It should also be mentioned with regard to this topic that Rupp is quoted directly as saying that he provided Oswald with the necessary information to help recruit black players and even invited him to assist on numerous occasions. In light of this, I find Oswald's actions of only involving himself personally in the recruitment of a single player to be lame and his criticisms of Rupp to be equally so.
I says, "Well Doctor if you can help me any, suppose you help me go and recruit then." I said, "It's just that simple. I made an effort". I says "I brought you the list, and told you the times, and we made an effort to go get these boys and we haven't been able to get them". And I said, "I can't get them. I had Bernie Shively go with me and we couldn't get them". I said, "now if you and Bob Johnson can get them", I says "hop to it". I said "it's going to suit me fine". - Adolph Rupp, The Rupp Tape (Audiocassette), WHAS Productions, 1992.
Playing the Mindreader
One of the most annoying aspects of the book is Fitzpatrick's penchant for making up what he believes Rupp would say or think. This is unethical as far as I'm concerned.
"At best, Rupp possessed the patronizing attitude toward race that was common among Southerners of his generation. There were some things blacks simply weren't equipped for, men like Rupp believed. Meeting a real university's academic standards and beating talented all-white basketball teams were two." - (pg. 39)
"But at the time, because this team [Texas Western] looked and, in interviews, sounded like no other basketball team in NCAA history, the widely accepted view was not that different from Rupp's: basketball was the only reason they were in college." - (pg. 117)
"Since then, whenever they traveled, Kentucky players wore blazers bearing the university's crest. And if he were the university's president, Rupp thought, no one would dress sloppily on campus either. And there wouldn't be any of those SDS meetings or antiwar protests. That was all President Oswald's fault. He was one of those Northern liberals for whom anything went. He was even bothering Rupp, pushing him to integrate his team. Didn't he know there weren't many black kids he could get into school ? And even if he could, how many would want to travel to Mississippi or Alabama ?" - (pg. 187-188)
"To Haskins, the Kentucky coach appeared serene on the sideline. And why not ? Rupp had won 749 games, 644 more than Haskins, and he didn't seem to think getting number 750 was going to be much of a problem. In Rupp's narrow view of the world, Texas Western was some tiny desert reformatory. How could such a remote institution, one whose basketball team had played Eastern New Mexico, East Texas State, and Pan American, for God's sake, possibly compete with his glorious Kentucky program ?" - (pg. 204-205)
JPS Note: - Fitzpatrick's inclusion of "for God's sake" is a true gem.
The most ridiculous passage from this book deals with what Fitzpatrick apparently believes Rupp would have uttered as his last word before death.
"It was easy then for those who knew Rupp to imagine his final moments as something melodramatic, like Charles Foster Kane's death at the opening of Citizen Kane. In his own world, Rupp's intimidating power had been as immense as the fictional tycoon's, his motivations often as inscrutable. Surely he, like Kane, would have sputtered a farewell that revealed some buried facet of the man. If so, it would have referred not to a lost childhood toy, but to a lost basketball game eleven years earlier....For Those who saw Rupp's death this way, as a symbolic final act to a large and controversial life, there was little doubt what his last words, his 'Rosebud,' would have been: Texas Western !" - (pg. 21-22)
There's no doubt that Rupp took the Texas Western loss hard, and that is supported by a large amount of evidence, but to claim it was the defining moment of his life, as Fitzpatrick attempts is presumptuous IMO coming from someone who never even knew Rupp personally. I don't know where Fitzpatrick derives the audacity to judge such a personal thing as someone's life-defining moment, but it serves as a microcosm of what is fundamentally wrong with this book. I agree with Billy Reed, who wrote in his panning of the book that the author deserves "a flagrant foul on Fitzpatrick for cheap psychology," for his use of this device. Reed goes on to note that,
"Sure, he [Rupp] loved the team known as 'Rupp's Runts' because of the unselfish way they played, not to mention the fact that they rejuvenated his career eight years after he won his fourth and final NCAA title. And sure he was deeply disappointed by the loss to Texas Western. But there's no way that defeat hurt him as much as the involvement of several of his players in the point-shaving scandal of the early 1950s. Trust me. No way." - by Billy Reed, Lexington Herald Leader, "Dribbling on Rupp's grave. Author shoots an Airball with Bogus Analysis of Famous UK Game," February 28, 1999.
Misreading The Times
A major problem I have with Fitzpatrick's book is that he relies so heavily not on what Rupp did or did not do to earn the author's criticism, but on what black people and his enemies thought of him at the time. Not that this shouldn't be important, but I believe after 30 years, it is imperative for one to be able to step back and try to sort out the fact from the fiction. As Tommy Kron said, "There was so much misinformation going on back then." (pg. 189) and it wasn't all misinformation from whites about blacks. Prejudice ran both ways. That is why I take issue with Fitzpatrick's overwhelming reliance on what blacks and others thought at the time about Rupp and whether he was racist. Instead of relying on what Rupp actually did and said, Fitzpatrick seems to suggest that Rupp was racist simply because many blacks at the time thought he was racist. (and still do thanks to people like Fitzpatrick) It would certainly be ridiculous to write an authoritative book describing Malcolm X based predominantly on what southern whites thought of him during the sixties, why would Fitzpatrick's book be any more relevant ?
"For blacks like these, Rupp was, if not an outright racist, certainly a powerful symbol of racism. Even after he was long gone and Kentucky had won national titles with black-dominated teams, the wounds endured. When UK coach Rick Pitino lost a top recruit, Jason Osborne, in the early 1990s, it was because the player's parents refused to allow their son to play at the school where Rupp had coached. 'Most blacks in Kentucky hate this place,' admitted William Parker, a black UK administrator, in 1988, 'and you teach that to your kids.'" - (pg. 130)
"Many blacks in the city, state, and nation, even twenty years after the coach's death, disagreed. They blamed Rupp for keeping Kentucky basketball all-white even after many Deep South teams had integrated. For them, his actions - and more significantly his inaction - painted an unmistakably dark picture of his racial attitudes." - (pg. 130)
Fitzpatrick likens Rupp to Bull Connor three times in his book. No effort is made to explain why Rupp deserves to be associated with someone who defiantly obstructed civil rights and among other things, set attack dogs and water hoses against peaceful demonstrators. Seriously, Rupp can fairly be criticized for not recruiting blacks hard enough, for making inappropriate slurs at times in personal conversations and for being insensitive to blacks, but there is absolutely nothing in his record that makes him deserve the above association. Fitzpatrick seems to believe, again, that because some blacks at the time thought so, that it makes it a fair association. I disagree and suggest it's time for Rupp's critics to take a step back and reassess how fair and truthful they are being to the man.
"In time, blacks and liberal whites would attach tremendous symbolic significance to the game, and its importance would be magnified because the loser was Kentucky. The white Wildcats were disparaged in black communities as the 'Bluegrass Bigots' and Rupp, a Bull Connor look-alike, was an apt stand-in for Jim Crow." - (pg. 26-27)
"Rupp is recalled as a villain in a sport now dominated by a race he excluded. 'Rupp was, to many blacks, the basketball version of Birmingham police chief Bull Connor,' wrote Nelson George, 'and the embodiment of segregation's lingering hold on the South." - (pg. 85)
"In the complex story of basketball's integration, Rupp had become George Wallace, the bigot blocking the gymnasium door. And, regardless of what his true feelings were, he fit the role perfectly. But had fate played out differently, had all-white Duke, with genial coach Vic Bubas, beaten Kentucky in that 1966 semifinal. Rupp might have escaped more easily into history's shadows. The Kentucky coach still would have won no NAACP awards, but the Bull Connor comparisons might have been more difficult." - (pg. 225)
Billy Reed interviewed Fitzpatrick about the book and directly asked him how fair it is to lump Rupp with someone like Bull Connor. Fitzpatrick's reply is far from a ringing endorsement of the themes found in his book.
"...Whether he was a racist or not, I don't know. In the context of this game and in the context of the eventual integration of Kentucky's program, clearly he was being pushed to do that long before it was actually done. I certainly did not mean to imply he was Bull Connor. But in a lot of people's minds, he was." - Frank Fitzpatrick in article by Billy Reed, Lexington Herald Leader, "Historic Game Revisited," February 28, 1999, pg. C3.
JPS Note: - Another cheap shot of Fitzpatrick's, which illustrates his inability to comprehend how racially insensitive society was at the time, is his inclusion of a picture from the 1955 National Biddy Basketball Tournament (facing page 128). The photograph shows Rupp seated with a group of young players, with a confederate flag draped in front of him. Fitzpatrick no doubt thinks that this bolsters his basic premise. I don't see that it does. Images of the confederate flag were very common during that time. Even Dean Smith's first teams at North Carolina were well-known for flying the confederate flag.
Beating a Dead Horse
Fitzpatrick is consistent in taking shots at Rupp throughout the book. If the reader didn't know that Rupp fielded an all-white team, they certainly would after reading only a few pages as Fitzpatrick finds it necessary to remark on it throughout. I find this distasteful and question the necessity of continually including it in the book other than to keep reinforcing the author's agenda. Here a few of the more curious references.
"Rupp's world was black and white, even if his basketball teams were not." - (pg. 21)
"His [Rupp] suits were always brown, his pajamas always red, and his teams, with only two exceptions in forty-two years, always white." - (pg. 37)
"Not long before game time, Kentucky's cheerleaders appeared. Their attire, like the megaphones they carried and the all-white team they cheered, soon would be obsolete." - (pg. 191)
"None of them mentioned it, of course, but an article of faith among most of the era's coaches was that an all-black team could not beat a talented, disciplined, well-coached white squad. And Kentucky was the epitome of all those things." - (pg. 203)
"On March 18, in the Mideast Regional final at Dayton, Ohio, all-white Kentucky was beaten by Florida State, 73-54, in Rupp's last game. Fate had provided an appropriate setting for the farewell. Florida State's starting five was all-black." - (pg. 223)
JPS Notes - (1) A sidenote of interest which was missed by the author is that the star of the game, Florida State's Ron King, was recruited by Rupp. (2) For good measure, the author lists in the index under Kentucky Wildcats - as all-white team: references to 17 different pages.
Less Than Authoritative
One further criticism I have of Fitzpatrick's book is that there are a few instances where the author seems to be less than authoritative in some of the stories at times when he should be. (Remember, this is a man who claims that he searched "for every written word about the game.") The effect of very nearly all these examples is to place more doubt on Rupp's motives which supports Fitzpatrick's basic premise. However, I believe the author is being facetious in his methods.
JPS Note - It should also be noted that although Fitzpatrick has obviously done much research for his book, he does nothing in the way of footnoting where his information came from or even listing the newspaper articles he utilized. So it is impossible to authoritatively say what the author is basing his thoughts on, although a good number of them are referenced in my page.
"Rupp liked to say he had tried to recruit Wilt Chamberlain in the mid-1950s, when the 7-foot Philadelphia phenom was the talk of basketball. 'But could I take him to Atlanta, New Orleans, or Starkville ?' Rupp asked rhetorically. It was a moot point. Chamberlain, eventually landed by Allen at Kansas, said he never considered Kentucky." - (pg. 102)
In this case, it's documented that Rupp has claimed that he would have liked to have recruited Wilt. I have seen no reference where Rupp claims that he did (as Fitzpatrick claims above). Fitzpatrick's remark confirming that Chamberlain was not recruited by Rupp is completely unnecessary if only Fitzpatrick had decided to report the situation correctly in the first place.
"St. John's Solly Walker in 1951 became the first black to play against Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum. That game passed peaceably, some say because Rupp had phoned the local newspapers and urged them to appeal for calm." - (pg. 132)
JPS Note - It's interesting to me that in another part of the book, Fitzpatrick seems more than happy to name Earl Cox as the reference for the belief that Rupp felt uncomfortable while at Tom Payne's house, yet when it comes to this situation, Fitzpatrick doesn't acknowledge Earl Cox as the reference for the above, preferring to use the highly descriptive word "some."
"No documentary evidence ever has surfaced about an SEC agreement on segregation." - (pg. 133)
I haven't seen anyone claim that the SEC ever had a 'written' agreement to bar black players. There have been many who have claimed that there was an agreement, including Rupp, though and the effects support this. Fitzpatrick seems to want to cast doubt on Rupp's references to such an agreement, and his mentioning of "documentary evidence" is misleading IMO (although the author does agree that there probably was a tacit agreement.)
"Early in his freshman year at the Nashville school, [David] Lattin was suspended for disciplinary reasons. The reason never has been explained fully. Harold Hunter, Tennessee A&I's basketball coach at the time, called the incident "minor" and Lattin agreed with that characterization. Apparently, he was the player Rupp later claimed had been recruited from a Tennessee penitentiary. There is no record of Lattin having been charged with any crime during his stay at the Tennessee school. Regardless, he soon decided to transfer." - (pg. 161-162)
In this instance, it has been clear for quite some time that Rupp (and many others, including many in the media) was incorrect in his claim about Lattin. Fitzpatrick lists Ray Sanchez's book Basketball's Biggest Upset which was published in 1991 as a reference so apparently he was privy to the in-depth explanation Sanchez provided about the episode at A & I (Sanchez provided an excerpt of a newspaper column by Abe Chanin written in 1966). So basically the truth has been available in print since 1966, and repeated in 1991, and yet Fitzpatrick included the totally unnecessary addition "There is no record of Lattin having been charged with any crime ..." as if the truth of the matter was still in doubt and required additional evidence. I find this tasteless as I believe that if you are going to write a book for publication and expect to be compensated for the effort, you should be acting as the authority on a subject when the facts are clear.
There are a handful of instances where I believe the author levels unrealistic criticisms or expectations on Rupp.
The first instance is related to the above where the author seems to not understand or appreciate the times the man lived in. Fitzpatrick apparently believes that Rupp should be apologetic for his coaching methods. These methods are certainly considered harsh and insensitive by today's standards but they were not so much during Rupp's time, where the coach had much more complete authority over the team. I also don't really understand why Fitzpatrick might even be expecting an apology for tactics which resulted in an unprecedented winning record.
"He [Rupp] never apologized for his aloof, boot camp tactics and he knew the 1951 gambling disaster that fingered several of his star players also tarnished him, but it's doubtful Rupp ever regarded his civil rights ignorance as a significant flaw." - (pg. 85)
The next criticism by Fitzpatrick is actually a sly one which would in general go unnoticed. The author relates the story of the loss to Western Kentucky and their star Jim McDaniels who was recruited by Rupp but with whom Rupp had a rocky relationship. Fitzpatrick uses one of Rupp's famous quotes about McDaniels, namely,
"Rupp was upset before the game in Athens, Georgia [sic], when Western Kentucky star Jim McDaniels suggested the NCAA pairings favored Kentucky. 'I doubt that he has the intelligence to comprehend how the NCAA brackets are made,' Rupp said of McDaniels. 'You can quote me on that.'" - (pg. 63)
I don't have a problem with Fitzpatrick telling the story (although Fitzpatrick incorrectly attributed the exchange as occurring in 1971, it actually occurred the year before when Western and Kentucky were also slated to meet in the tournament). The part I take exception to is that in the index at the back of the book, Fitzpatrick lists this exchange as Rupp, Adolph: racist remarks by: It's certainly true that Rupp was putting down McDaniels and that McDaniels is black, but I fail to see why this is a racist remark as apparently Fitzpatrick does. It was a comment directed at a single person and from everything I've seen and read about McDaniels, Rupp's statement is dead-on accurate. Some in today's hypersensitive society might agree wholeheartedly with the notion that a white man can't criticize a black person for anything without it being considered racist but I simply don't agree. In fact, I believe this is a great example where Rupp, in the early 70's had the courage to say what he felt needed to be said, even though it may not have been a "politically correct" thing to say even at that time. I feel that Fitzpatrick's decision to define this as a racist remark is unfounded and his criticism of Rupp for it (as with Fitzpatrick's criticism of Rupp for not partaking in tokenism) is hollow and seems to only indicate how gutless Fitzpatrick might act if he found himself in a similar situation.
JPS Note - Fitzpatrick also has a listing for Rupp, Adolph: integration resisted by and he proceeds to list 49 pages where Rupp supposedly resisted integration. Looking through a handful, it is obvious to me that most are far more dubious than the example described above. As one example of the author's bias, Rupp recruited a number of black players in the 60's, yet there is no listing in the index for something similar to Rupp, Adolph: attempts to recruit black players. Yet this doesn't prevent the author from using the occurrence of Rupp recruiting a black player, who ended up not signing, as an example of Rupp resisting integration.
I also take exception to Fitzpatrick's criticism of Rupp for being too set in his ways in the latter part of his career. The author notes that this could be seen both on the court and off. As far as on the court, one has to realize that when Rupp started coaching at Kentucky, the center jump was still employed after every made basket and players shot strictly set shots. Rupp even drilled his team to pass instead of dribble because the laces could lead to odd bounces. Along the way, Rupp was an important advocate of instituting the ten-second rule to speed up the game, adding a three-second lane rule to open up the middle and getting the NCAA to hold a national postseason tournament and other improvements to the game. He was also instrumental in employing the inside screen, perfecting the outlet pass to start a fast break among other things. Al McGuire, the animated former coach for Marquette once said "Coach Rupp has contributed more to basketball by accident than most of us have on purpose." (Russell Rice, Kentucky's Basketball Baron, pg. 196.) Even Fitzpatrick had to admit as much, although in his own peculiar way.
"As conservative as he [Rupp] was about most things, he often was an innovator on the court." - (pg. 96)
Given the fact that Rupp had coached during a time period which saw such an amazing evolution in the game and was successful at every turn, I find it ridiculous that someone would seriously attempt to hold this type of criticism against him. It's only natural that someone his age and with the success he had enjoyed would slow down and become more entrenched in his methods. Many Kentucky fans of the time debated that very topic.
In terms of off the court, especially with regards to race, the criticism is more valid. Fitzpatrick and Rupp's other critics expected Rupp to be at the forefront of bringing black players into the South and in many respects, they have valid points. (As a Kentucky fan I certainly wish he would have and realize that if he had done so (by signing players like Haskins, Unseld and Beard), it would have been a crowning jewel to his lifetime achievement.) As they point out, Rupp was in the position (at least more than anyone else at the time) to make integration happen. I agree to a point but don't completely agree that criticizing Rupp for being too conservative is warranted. First of all, Rupp did make the attempt to adapt by recruiting black players, even in his late age and declining health. Also, Rupp did coach through so many different eras that I question how valid it is to hold it against him that he didn't embrace one more step in American cultural evolution. Remember that Rupp had been coaching players from the 20's who barely knew what the game was about, players who lived through the depression, World War II veterans and POWs, all the way through the babyboomers and cultural shifts seen in the late 60's and early 70s) This is certainly a testament to the ability of Rupp to adapt to coach such a broad span of players. Picking out one failure to evolve seems trite IMO.
Exonerating Texas Western
Fitzpatrick notes a few times in his book that he believes some of Rupp's friends and relatives are trying to whitewash his image from the accusations of racism, accusations which Fitzpatrick believes are appropriate. Reading the book, I was struck by the lengths to which Fitzpatrick actually went to recast the image of Texas Western (UTEP) and Don Haskins with regards to the ground-breaking series on the Black Athlete by Jack Olsen (Sports Illustrated, July 15, 1968). Now, I have always admired Coach Haskins and believe it's pointless and spiteful to too heavily criticize what happened over 30 years ago (just as I do with Rupp), but Olsen's article made some extremely valid points regarding some of the injustices, intolerance and disrespect accorded its own student-athletes, some of which came directly from the Texas Western administration and Coach Haskins. Instead of acknowledging these, Fitzpatrick goes out of his way to dismiss the article, ignoring the explicit examples of then-Athletic Director George McCarty's penchant for using the word "nigger" in the article in favor of providing Haskins' explanation of a single occurrence, along with passing the article off as the work of a few disgruntled athletes, long-jumper Bob Beamon in particular.
"The series' real focus was world-class long-jumper Bob Beamon and his equally bitter UTEP track teammates." - (pg. 30)
"They [Sports Illustrated] said George kept saying, 'Our nigger athletes.' I was in the room and George did not say that. What he did was tell a story of driving in a car in the 1950s to Abilene and Charlie Brown [one of texas Western's first black players] sitting in the back seat. George said he started to tell a 'nigger' joke and then he caught himself and apologized to Charlie. And Charlie told him, 'Go on, tell the damn story.'" - pg. 31
"The Texas Western players now contend that, for the most part, they were misquoted, misinterpreted, or simply misunderstood by Olsen. Things were far from perfect in El Paso, they say, but they were young in 1968 and there were people - black and white - who tried to fit Olsen's findings to their own agendas." - (pg. 32)
The series did lead to undeserved repercussions on the UTEP athletics program as there was a backlash against the school and much of the information concerning the academic achievements of the athletes was unfounded (to the athlete's credit), something which took over a decade to sort out and was set back due to James Michener's harsh treatment of UTEP in his book, Sports in America. But the series by Olsen did contain much information which still stands, and the article rings true, even today with regard to the way universities treat their black athletes. This is a must-read and groundbreaking article for anyone interested in this topic and it's sad to see Fitzpatrick, a man who purports to be a supporter of equal rights, dismiss this work out-of-hand in an attempt to paint a cleaner picture of Texas Western.
Fitzpatrick does make a claim late in the book that I find lacking in much support and even offensive. Namely, the author tries to argue that Kentucky was intimidated in the championship game because of Texas Western's "blackness." There's no doubt that Kentucky was not as aggressive during the game as they should have been if they were going to win the title, but I think it's totally uncalled-for to suggest that it had to do with race, based on the tiny amount of evidence Fitzpatrick uses to support his argument. I guess a team can't have an off-night without a critic like Fitzpatrick finding a sinister reason behind it. I'll submit an alternative reason why Kentucky might not have played as well as they should have, which is also found in the book. The reason being that the team was sick and not in good shape after contracting the flu while in Iowa City for the regionals.
"After I told the doctor they'd be stronger tomorrow, he said, 'Adolph, I don't want to kill you but you're through.'" said Rupp. "He said, 'You shot your load.' He said, 'Your kids tomorrow are simply not going to be strong.'" - (pg. 208)
Of course this explanation is not as interesting as the alternative theory Fitzpatrick presents. So it goes.
"He [Haskins] figured Kentucky had never played against anyone quite like [David] Lattin -- so big, so strong, so black." - (pg. 207)
"To Riley and others, it appeared Kentucky was intimidated. They had never played against five blacks at once and weren't entirely sure what to expect." - (pg. 211)
JPS Note: The remark about not being "entirely sure what to expect," was an addition by Fitzpatrick . I haven't seen any such quote to this effect from Riley. It's also noteworthy that the author spends a good part of the book confronting the racial preconceptions of the Texas Western team and explains how they were actually a very disciplined team focused on defense. But when he gets into his theory, he begins to completely abandon this and regresses into the very same preconceptions he argued against earlier in his book.
[Willie] Worsley recognized that there clearly was something defensive about Kentucky's play, something that was causing them to perform much more tentatively than usual: "They either had a lack of respect for us because we were black, because their coach had told them derogatory stuff about us, or they were scared because they knew we were 'better athletes,' or they were cocky and thought they would kick our butts. They might have had two or three athletes on the team who felt comfortable and two or three who didn't." - (pg. 211)
JPS Note: This is ridiculous. Worsley seems to say the reason is either A.) Kentucky was completely cowed by the awesome black Western athletes or B.) they were so cocky they came in overconfident. Why is it not possible that it's somewhere in between, ie UK was neither overconfident nor overwhelmed but was simply physically exhausted or even were just outplayed that night ?
As part of the background leading up to his theory, Fitzpatrick earlier in the book mentions.
"As familiar as they said they were with black players, however, Kentucky's players actually had almost no experience with them that season. Of all the players they faced in twenty-seven regular-season games, sixteen of them against eight [sic] SEC opponents, fewer than a dozen opponents were black." - (pg. 190)
JPS Note: Kentucky's regular-season schedule only had slots for nine non-conference games [Kentucky actually played sixteen games against ten SEC opponents] and while some of those (Virginia and Texas Tech) were not integrated, all the rest were. That's slightly ahead of the curve given Fitzpatrick's own statistic that only 58% of the nation's teams were integrated at the time (pg. 64). To say that of the remaining seven teams, Kentucky competed against about a dozen black opponents is also not surprising since the author also notes that the average number of black players on integrated teams was 2.8. Whether this played an important role on Kentucky player's psyches is debatable but I personally don't agree with Fitzpatrick's theory. It is interesting to note that Fitzpatrick omits mentioning the post-season where Kentucky played against integrated Dayton and Michigan (who started four black players, including player of the year Cazzie Russell). I suppose Michigan wasn't 'black' enough for Fitzpatrick's hypothesis since Kentucky obviously wasn't intimidated enough to lose to the Wolverines.
At least Fitzpatrick provides a counter to this ridiculous theory.
[Larry] Conley saw it all differently. "That never bothered me. People had dunked on us all year," he said. "[Vanderbilt All-America] Clyde Lee used to do it to us all the time. And Lattin was nowhere near the player Lee was. I don't think we were intimidated." - (pg. 211 - 212)
The Battle Over a Legacy
Fitzpatrick makes light of the criticism which has been mounting over the years in response to the claims made against Rupp by a handful of reporters and other critics, most of whom had never even met the man. Rather than confront the points that are brought up, however, the author dismisses them out of hand.
"Friends and relatives continue to defend him. They contend Rupp was a man of his times. It is an argument they are not likely to win. Rupp will never shake the legacy of Texas Western. And maybe he doesn't deserve to." - (pg. 226)
My response to this is that while there are certainly those whose main intention is to shake the legacy completely, there are many others who are defending him because the accusations against him are just wrong or show no understanding at all of the time and location that the events took place. I have no doubt that Rupp will never shake the legacy of being an insensitive, stubborn old man who failed in adapting well enough to the changing climate seen in the 1960s. But I do believe that as long as more people become knowledgeable of the facts and of the false and unfair claims which have been leveled against him by his critics, that he will eventually shake the legacy presented to us in a book such as this, Rupp's legacy should and will stand on its own merits eventually.
In the Billy Reed interview with the author, Fitzpatrick notes that "It seems like one of (Herky Rupp's) missions in life is to remove the stain of racism from his father's reputation." That may well be true. I offer the counter that especially since the early 1990's there has been a concerted effort by a few, namely Alexander Wolff, Curry Kirkpatrick, John Feinstein and Mike Douchant among others, to taint his image. That is one reason I went into explicit detail in the web page detailing the progression of this phenomena in the national media and pointing out the many instances where the authors either make up evidence, which is then assumed to be fact, or fail to report facts which shoot holes in their premise. Fitzpatrick makes no reference at all to this development in the current media, probably because he now joins the ranks of those actively participating in it.
JPS Note:I should note that with the recent wave of dismissals and resignations in the media due to false reporting, there may come a time when the sports media may also be held responsible for the accuracy of what they write. If that ever comes to pass, people like Feinstein and Douchant, who have recently flaunted their anti-UK biases with outright lies, may be in for a shock.
Failing the Ultimate Purpose
One point that I feel is extremely important to make about this entire debate is that there are many people in America who believe Adolph Rupp is racist based on nothing but what they've read in places such as Sports Illustrated and from such journalists as John Feinstein and Alexander Wolff. Unfortunately, these sources have not provided all the evidence. Frank Fitzpatrick's book is one such example where the author tries to make his case against Rupp but does not provide his readers with all the facts, no doubt resulting in a generation of people who are ignorant of the complete story. Part of the reason I wrote the web page in the first place is that there was so much misinformation being circulated that I felt it was important to at least set out what the facts are. I have come to the conclusion that Rupp was prejudiced and really dropped the ball at a time when he could have cemented his legacy, but I don't find him to be the avowed racist that the above writers describe. People can read the page and decide for themselves whether they think Rupp was racist or not. I don't have any issues with those who read the page and still believe he was racist, as long as they've considered the entire story and not only the one-sided view which is found in places like Sports Illustrated or a book such as Fitzpatrick's.
Another important point to realize is that most of the above authors have written detrimental articles about Kentucky, not out of a sense of racial justice, but merely because it seemed an easy way to criticize a program they don't like. Many fans of other schools use the information as a weapon to denounce the University of Kentucky (sadly, most of them know nothing about the events leading to integration of their own schools). Many coaches over the years have used the information to sway recruits away from Lexington. I'm a strong believer in being judged by the time that you live in, which is why I take exception to those who try to judge Rupp and others for what they did in the 1960s based on 1990s standards. By the same token, I believe it is fair that we should be judged by today's standards. That is why, in my mind at least, I believe that those who use this type of information only as a means to divide and lay blame, and not as a tool for understanding, are themselves practicing racism in today's society. I don't care to speculate on Fitzpatrick's motives for writing his book with the anti-UK bent that it does, but at the very least, I hold him responsible for abetting this type of hateful behavior.
A related point which is important to note is that many of these people are basically refighting a battle which has already been won, something which was becoming apparent even before the 1966 title game. As Billy Reed wrote:
"In the spring of 1966, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were dominating the National Basketball Association; Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson were among Major League Baseball's brightest stars; Gale Sayers was preparing to replace Jim Brown as the National Football League's leading rusher; and Muhammad Ali was the world heavyweight boxing champion. In college basketball, every NCAA champion since 1961 had been built around black stars. Loyola of Chicago, the 1963 champion, had four black starters." - by Billy Reed, Lexington Herald Leader, "Dribbling on Rupp's grave. Author shoots an Airball with Bogus Analysis of Famous UK Game," February 28, 1999.
Due in large part to the trailblazers mentioned above, today, it can be argued that the basketball court is one of the few places in America that a person can be judged solely on their talents and not on their skin color. But once you move away from the playing field, the disparities become obvious (even for black athletes with respect to commercial endorsement deals). While the Fitzpatricks, Kirkpatricks etc. seem to take great pride in flinging arrows at their designated scape-goat and patting themselves on the back for their sense of racial equality circa 1960's, they fail to relay to their audience that the rest of society has failed to live up to the progress seen in these sports over the last thirty years. I believe this is a far more important message which is simply not provided by these writers.
JPS Note - I would have hoped that given that Fitzpatrick writes in a city where they've been known to address a racial problem by dropping a bomb on it, that he could find some more pertinent and pressing issues concerning race to write about, assuming he was truly interested in championing equal rights.
As a liberal when it comes to social issues, I take great pride in the accomplishments and courage demonstrated during the civil rights movement. Even though I'm a Kentucky fan, I can't even say that I wished Kentucky would have won the game because frankly, there are more important battles in life than basketball and this victory did much to support the black community at a critical time in history. Plus I'm afraid that by winning that game, Kentucky would have been lumped in with those who would have used a UK win to trumpet their own prejudices against racial equality (even more than they are today). I do, however, take exception when people such as Fitzpatrick, try to enhance the events by ignoring all the facts. Even though Fitzpatrick no doubt had good intentions in mind when he wrote the book, it is never a good idea to have to mislead the audience in order to make the story appear more satisfying. It can actually be detrimental and I believe in this case, it will prove to be so. For example, if the simplistic world that Fitzpatrick presents is believed, many readers may come away actually under-appreciating the tribulations that blacks endured in order to find a place in college basketball. Fitzpatrick spends so much time in his book dismissing Rupp's reasons why it was difficult to sign and bring black players into the South that some may believe that these obstacles didn't exist or fail to realize how entrenched racism was in society. As I mentioned previously, due to this type of writing, some may not appreciate the fact that even the North, which Fitzpatrick paints as progressive, was racist too. Perhaps most damaging, Fitzpatrick's dismissal of the article by Jack Olsen on the black athlete is very disturbing. Although parts of the article were flawed and led to undeserved grief for Texas Western and Coach Haskins, the basic ideas in that article are as true today as they were when Olsen first wrote them in the 1960s.
I actually find the story of Rupp as an enigma with regards to race to be a much more interesting tale, and one which has a much more relevant effect on how we should act in today's society. The Rupp I see is a man who knew that change was inevitable but literally didn't know how to embrace it. He was tapping against the barrier to integration when a sledgehammer was necessary. He was too comfortable in his position to take what he considered to be too high of a risk by plunging head-first into integrating his team. But despite this, he did coach a black player in high school in the 1920s, he did help local blacks to gain scholarships, he did assist many black players and coaches in their career, he was the first coach to recruit blacks in the Southeastern conference, the list goes on. Yet where has that gotten him ?
The point I am driving at is that Rupp's dilemma is one which we are all faced with today. No one I know resembles the simplistic figure that Fitzpatrick presents where the correct actions are obvious and beliefs are either completely right or completely wrong. Everyone I know has shades of gray in what they do, the decisions they make and the beliefs they hold. To realize that a man can work a lifetime to achieve greatness, only to have his legacy tarnished and achievements dismissed because he was not attuned enough to the times during the latter stages of his life is a powerful testament for all of us to be open to change through all stages of our own lives.
Right now, I see a country that is quickly coming to a point where there will be no racial majority. Yet, judging by the current state of our society, I believe we are utterly unprepared for this eventuality. From the disregard given to providing a quality education to all, to the unfairly structured criminal justice system, to the xenophobic attitude reflected in many of our laws and national policies, there might be lessons we can derive from the story of Adolph Rupp. Another example is our current attitude toward homosexuals. If someone doesn't realize that in 5, 10 or 20 years, people will look back at our time and be appalled at the way we discriminate against homosexuals, they haven't thought seriously about the situation. Yet we have the Senate leader of one of our major political parties stand up and denounce them with some of the most backwards rhetoric imaginable. Again, in deciding how we act today and adapt in the future, we all might just learn a thing or two from the story of Adolph Rupp.
This book is a huge disappointment. Frank Fitzpatrick buys into all the criticisms of Rupp while ignoring or dismissing out of hand any contradictory evidence which shoots holes through his basic premise. The author spends so much time vilifying Rupp and covering for Texas Western coach Don Haskins that he loses all sense of perspective on the state of society during that time. The characters that Fitzpatrick presents are one-dimensional and overly simplistic. The result being that the readers are not provided with a complete picture of the complexities and hard decisions which were made by everyone during integration of college basketball in the South and nation in general. This could lead to an under-appreciation of the obstacles which were overcome by the many black pioneers. Perhaps more important, the way the author stuffs the image of Rupp into a box of pure evil alienates the reader from any type of connection to the man and thus the opportunity is lost to seriously contemplate how their own actions in today's society might be viewed to future generations, much like Rupp's are now. This predilection towards blaming Rupp for just about everything is one result of a willful decision by Fitzpatrick to not understand the man, a flaw the author has basically admitted to. In an interview with Billy Reed, the author states "I still don't feel I have a real grasp of the guy. In a lot of ways, I think he was a simplistic figure." This basic flaw should, by itself, prevent anyone from wasting their time with this book.
The author, during one of his denouncements of Rupp states "Much of the taint attached to Rupp is justifiable. On racial matters, the record shows him to be, at best, insensitive, patronizing, and backward-looking." - (pg. 225-226). I would suggest that this book is, in its own way, insensitive, patronizing and backward-looking. I look forward to the day when someone of not only a social conscience writes about this topic, but someone with a sense of historical perspective to go along with a sense of fairness and objectiveness.
If anyone wants to reach the author, he is currently atPhiladelphia Inquirer
The author did actually contact me about the review and I believe his reply goes far in illustrating the lack of professionalism of the author and his book. You can read the details at the following page.
Written by Jon Scott - Last Updated April 30, 1999
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