Why Bobby Knight And A Rogues' Gallery Of Athletes Are Flocking To Trump | KERA News

Why Bobby Knight And A Rogues' Gallery Of Athletes Are Flocking To Trump

May 2, 2016
Originally published on December 8, 2016 12:31 pm

Donald Trump could solidify his position as the Republican Party's all-but-certain nominee with a win in Indiana Tuesday.

Ted Cruz is hoping an endorsement from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence could help him buck recent polls and carry the Hoosier State.

But while Cruz is campaigning with Indiana's governor, Trump has been touring the state with a living Indiana legend: former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.

Introducing Trump at a rally last week, Knight gave the presidential candidate the ultimate compliment: "I'll tell you," he said to a cheering crowd, "that sumbitch could play for me."

Knight won three national championships with Indiana. He also developed a national reputation as a blunt, profane coach who threw chairs onto the court and — at times — physically assaulted his players.

Trump made it clear he had no problem with that. "Tough, tough," he said about Knight. "Would you say he was tough enough? Would you say? And not just tough," Trump continued. "Smart, tactical. He was a winner."

Knight is the latest in a growing rogues' gallery of controversial and outspoken athletes and coaches to side with Trump.

Trump recently bragged about an endorsement from Mike Tyson - the heavyweight boxer who served time for rape and infamously bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear.

He's also won public backing from cigarette-smoking, club-throwing golfer John Daly, and rainbow-haired NBA star Dennis Rodman, who calls North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un a friend.

Last month, Trump campaigned with Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, who never shies away from a fight with the New York tabloids. Ryan praised Trump for always saying what's on his mind. "A lot of people want to say the same thing," he said, "But there's a big difference. They don't have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don't have the courage to say it."

Other athletes to endorse Trump to one degree or another – whether it's a simple tweet, a conspicuously placed "Make America Great Again" hat in a locker – include foul-mouthed former Braves closer John Rocker, water cooler-smashing onetime Yankee Paul O'Neill, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

ESPN commentator and Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone said there's a common theme to all these Trump endorsers. "Maybe a collective middle finger," he said. "Because they have all thumbed their noses at authority. At institutional organizations, and continued to do things as they wanted to do it, regardless of the rules and regulations before."

All of these men are like Trump — they're loud, brash, outliers in a field that's otherwise pretty bland. "The same way that Trump talks about political correctness, and how he's not a part of that, is the same thing that these guys said throughout their careers all the time," said Will Leitch, who writes about culture for Bloomberg Politics, and founded the sports website Deadspin. "John Daly would say, I'm the one interesting golfer. I'm smoking and drinking beer. Because that's what real people do. Not like these stuck-up golfers.

Sound familiar? Days after aides promised Trump would begin to act more like a traditional presidential candidate, Trump promised a crowd of supporters he'd continue to stay off-script. "I could change to presidential so easy," he said. "That would be much easier than doing what I'm doing now. Because I could talk nice and calm and everyone would fall asleep after ten minutes."

And Leitch said Knight and Trump both have a strategic love/hate relationship with reporters. [Knight] would always get into fights with media but it was always staged for television," said Leitch.

Here's a highlight reel ESPN compiled of Knight's most memorable clashes with the media:

But, Leitch argued, "he realized it helped him maximize his influence...Bobby Knight knew how to manipulate the media."

Again — just like Trump. The candidate regularly refers to the traveling press corps as, "disgusting reporters, horrible people," but has acknowledged that he's benefited from wall-to-wall coverage.

Most political observers don't think endorsements count for much - and in this particular case, Leitch agreed. "I think your average person that loved Bobby Knight - that person was voting for Trump. I don't think there's any question."

And Knight isn't exactly offering compelling reasons for undecided voters to back Trump. When NPR's Scott Simon asked Knight what he thought of Trump's domestic policy, Knight responded, "How the hell do I know what I think about domestic issues? That's for someone much smarter than I am."

"You've got to understand that I'm just talking about a guy that I think has all those things that need to be done," he told Weekend Edition. "He's my choice for the guy to do it. It's just that simple."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, this is a big week for Indiana. The state's presidential primary is playing a big role in the fight between Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Now, Cruz got the endorsement of the governor, but here's Cruz's problem - Trump got the endorsement of Bobby Knight, a huge figure in Indiana sports whose controversial acts over the years have captured the state's imagination. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, Knight is one of just several controversial sports figures to back Trump in recent months.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Introducing Trump in Indiana last week, Bobby Knight gave the presidential candidate the ultimate compliment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY KNIGHT: And I'll tell you one thing, that man that was just up here a moment ago - I'll tell you, that son of a [expletive] can play for me.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: Knight won three national championships with Indiana. He also developed a national reputation as a blunt profane coach who threw chairs onto the court and at times physically assaulted his players. Trump made it clear he had no problem with that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Tough, tough - would you say he was tough enough, wouldn't you say?

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: You know, not just tough - smart, tactical. He had the - he was a winner. He was a winner.

DETROW: Knight is the latest in a growing rogue's gallery of athletes and coaches to side with Trump. Trump recently bragged about an endorsement from Mike Tyson, the heavyweight boxer who served time for rape and infamously bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear.

He's also won public backing from cigarette smoking, club-throwing golfer John Daly and rainbow-haired NBA star Dennis Rodman, among others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KNIGHT: This is a great honor for me to introduce Donald Trump.

(APPLAUSE, SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: Last month, Trump campaigned with Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, who never shies away from a fight with the New York tabloids. Ryan praised Trump for always saying what's on his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REX RYAN: A lot of people want to say the same thing, but there's a big difference - they don't have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don't have the courage to say it.

DETROW: ESPN commentator and Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone says there's a common theme to all these Trump endorsers.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Maybe a collective middle finger because they have all thumbed their noses at authority, at institutional organizations and continue to do things as they want to do it.

DETROW: All of these men are like Trump. They're loud, brash outliers in a field that's otherwise pretty bland.

WILL LEITCH: The same way that Trump talks about political correctness and how he's not a part of that is the same thing that these guys said throughout their careers all the time.

DETROW: Will Leitch writes about culture for Bloomberg Politics and founded the sports website Deadspin.

LEITCH: John Daly would say, you know, I'm the one interesting golfer. I'm smoking and drinking beer because that's what real people do, not like these stuck-up golfers.

DETROW: Sound familiar?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I could change to presidential so easy. That would be much easier than doing what I'm doing right now 'cause I could talk nice and calm and everybody would fall asleep after 10 minutes.

DETROW: And Leitch says Knight and Trump both have a strategic love-hate relationship with reporters.

LEITCH: He would always get into fights with media, but it was always staged for television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KNIGHT: You know, you want an [expletive] answer from me? You get the answer. You don't like the [expletive] answer, then don't use the [expletive] program, OK?

LEITCH: He realized it helped to maximize his influence. You know, Bobby Knight knew how to manipulate the media.

DETROW: Again, just like Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Disgusting reporters, horrible people.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: Most political observers don't think endorsements count for much. And in this particular case, Leitch says he agrees.

LEITCH: I think that your average person that loved Bobby Knight, that person was already voting for Trump. I don't think there's any question.

DETROW: And that's Trump's challenge going forward. Just like these sports figures who are backing him, Trump is successful but very polarizing. But men like Bobby Knight only have to win games. They don't have to win over undecided voters. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.