Saluting a Sick System: Sports Illustrated Honors Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski

In a decision that speaks to the worst impulses of a proud magazine, Sports Illustrated has chosen the two active legends of College Basketball coaching, Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt, as their Sportspersons of the Year. It’s impossible to quibble with the choice of Tennessee’s Summitt, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA hoops history, after 38 seasons and eight championships leading the Lady Vols. The tough-as-leather coach who insists her players refer to her as “Pat” was diagnosed earlier this year with Alzheimer’s disease. She has insisted on coaching as long as her body will allow while also starting a foundation to fight the crippling illness. Coach Summitt is without question an absolute inspiration in how one can use sports to leverage the greater good.


The choice of Krzyzewski speaks to a far different impulse. Certainly his accomplishments speak for themselves. He recently set the all time record for men's coaching wins  but that is only part of the majesty of Coach K's recent history. As Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff put it succinctly, "No other coach has ever won the Olympics, the NCAAs and the Worlds -- and Coach K did so in a span of 26 months."


But Wolff and company could not have picked a worse time in our sports history to burnish the legend of Coach K. I don’t object to the choice of Krzysewski because I dislike, as so many do, the elitist trappings of Duke University.  I don’t object because, for all his pretensions of sportsmanship, Coach K swears at players and refs in a manner that would make his mentor, Bob Knight blush. I don’t even object because I’m a proud fan of the University of Maryland. I object because of the unspoken reason he is receiving this honor. It's because at no time in the history of amateur sports, has the NCAA been so mired in crisis, crippled under the weight of its own culture of corruption. Sports Illustrated is not merely honoring Coach K, but giving reassurance to a rotten system.


In 2011, we all learned just how low the NCAA and its member schools would go to defend their bottom lines. We learned how people in power at Penn State University would put the lives of children at risk, if it meant preserving the lucrative legend of Coach Joe Paterno. We learned what Syracuse University and the surrounding community would be willing to cover up – and how many children they would endanger - to protect their own Hall of Fame Coach Jim Boeheim and the $19 million dollar annual cash-cow of Syracuse hoops. We saw saw Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resign after a series of scandals that now look quaint, and we witnessed the University of Miami Athletic Department reel under the weight of the gutter economy of exchange between criminal boosters and the school’s President Donna Shalala.


This was also the year that Dr. Martin Luther King’s Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, Taylor Branch, published The Cartel: The Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, which exposes just how corrupt and ugly the amateur industry is. As Branch writes, “ College Athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene…. is to catch the whiff of the plantation.”


Coach K has acquired power by inhaling deeply this “whiff of the plantation." His salary at Duke now stands at over five million dollars a year. Nike also pays him seven figures so his players can advertise the Swoosh as they run up and down the court. He defended his income last year by saying,  “If you’re at a program for a long time, if you’re at a school for a long time, you become much more than just a basketball coach at the school. You become an ambassador for the school.”


As an ambassador, that’s still one hell of a paycheck. If we really need to honor an NCAA coach, I’d go with South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. Not because his Gamecocks are particularly good, but because earlier this year he called for his fellow NCAA coaches to pay players out of their own salaries. As Spurrier said, "We make all the money. We need to get more to our players. ... They bring in the money. They're the performers." Or SI could have chosen Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini who had the guts to say, following Nebraska’s visit to Penn State just four days after Joe Paterno was fired, that the “game shouldn’t have been played....It’s about what doing what's right in society. It’s about doing what’s right and wrong….It is a lot bigger than football, the NCAA, the Big Ten and anything else.”


Choosing Spurrier or Pelini – or even Taylor Branch – as Sportsperson of the Year would have been a powerful statement from SI that business as usual in the NCAA has to come to an end.  The choice of Coach K is a choice that says: “Have no fear, villagers. We must keep faith in our all-powerful and benevolent Coach-God Rulers.” It’s an awful choice, serving a collegiate status quo currently residing in a moral abyss. Sports Illustrated should be leading the charge to democratize college sports, not burnishing the legend of our last Sun King, Mike Krzyzewski.

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Dave Zirin, The Great Democratizer

Seriously, it's getting tiresome. "The elitist trappings of Duke University"? You get what you pay for, Zirin, and I think 99% of parents of bball prodigies would rather send their kids to a school ranked #10 overall of all U.S. "undergraduate programs at doctoral granting institutions" (U.S. News & World Report, 2012) and 14th best university in the world (Newsweek, 2010) than a pseudo-academic basketball factory like Florida or Michigan State -- or some wanna be state school like University of Maryland, no offense. And get this: a survey by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2002 ranked Duke as the #1 university in the country in regards to the integration of African American students and faculty.

So that's why independently wealthy fathers -- the evil 1%, no matter that they're all self-made -- like Calvin Hill, Mike Dunleavy Sr., Doc Rivers and Dell Curry send their sons to Duke. Because they know they will get a solid academic education from top notch professors, an integrated student community, *and* an unparalleled basketball education from Coach K. Oh no, but the man curses and makes too much money, and works in the same field as the legitimate offenders in Syracuse and Penn State. Guilt by association -- Zirin is such a loyal Trotskyite.

P.S. Pat Summitt makes an annual salary of 1.5 million (1%-er there) and her team brings in far less revenue to Tennessee than Coach K's men's team does for Duke... and she's inspired by Nancy and Ronald Reagan. But I guess she has Alzheimer's and is, well, a woman, so she gets a pass in Marxist Zirin's book.

Comrade Zirin's Elitist Trappings

Comrade Zirin's "elitist trappings" line reminds me of those stories of Communist Party officials bemoaning capitalism while being shuttled around in limos by Mercedes.

By Zirin's own admission, he grew up in elite Manhattan, his father worked on Wall Street, and he went to expensive, elite private schools.

Take a look at one of his alma matters:

Macalester College, 2011-2012




Activity Fee:


Wrong Reason

Actually, I think you object to Coach K for the wrong reason - the whiff of plantation stuff may be up for grabs. But Coach K stands for another odious concept - the coach who is the most powerful person in the University. It's kind of ridiculous to think of Duke as an elite educational institution when their basketball coach outranks and outearns the President of the institution.

BFD Tornado.. . .

It really doesn't matter what Zirin's family background is, where he went to school, etc. Your sick obsession with trying to discredit and shame him has gotten too dangerous and way too over the top. And it's revealing your own character as well, and it's nothing that's admirable at all. And BTW--you never did answer my questions about where you work, how much do you make, etc. Too chicken to do so, now, aren't you?

Macalester College

Yeah, Macalester costs an arm and a leg. But it's not like Zirin took that pricey education and turned it into a lucrative pro-corporate career. Hopefully he does OK but I'm sure he doesn't make ESPN-level money.

I didn't know he went there. I instinctively like anyone better who's ever lived in St. Paul. Thanks for the heads-up.

Redbaiting trolls

Um, this article isn't about an objection to K on the basis of the "elitist trappings" of Duke. In fact, Zirin says: "I donít object to the choice of Krzysewski because I dislike, as so many do, the elitist trappings of Duke University." Then he goes on the argue why the choice of K was a poor one.

So these red baiting trolls don't actually respond to the posting, and perhaps had not even read it. Yet they go through some effort to smear the author.

Bad trolls! Bad, slimy trolls!

jjdynomite what the hell?

Zirin didn't mention anything about race or Duke specifically doing anything wrong, rather his criticism was leveled specifically at Coach K and his personal actions.
Also Austin Rivers is not going to Duke to get an education, he's going there so he can play on one of the biggest stages in College sports and perhaps most importantly where the team will be in competition for a national title nearly every year, and thus help his draft stock. Duke basketball is business as usual whether you admit it or not.

To DZ it's always the money

I see DZ is up(or rather down)to his old plantation talk. It's still silly and stupid. Yea I'm going to talk my son out of accepting a BB scholarship because he would be treated like a slave.

Methinks DZ brings up salaries because he's a slave to jealousy. And jjdynomite correctly brings Summitt's salary into the equation with all its trappings. But to DZ Summitt is a good millionaire and Coach K is a bad millionaire.

Coach K/Tim Tebow

Take a deep breath and respond to his argument everyone: Coach K, like the cult of Tim Tebow (I wonder if Tebow would be as popular if he were a right-wing, black, Muslim?), is a fig leaf for an ethical sewer, which is precisely why they are so popular. It allows people to believe that College Sports aren't corrupting if not destroying one of the few things we actually lead the world in: higher education. Coach K and Tebow are, like Marx said of religion, the opiate of the masses.

maybe high school is clean

For years I would go down to my local community college and watch "real" basketball. It was unending time outs; so monstrous fat pigs could not play, running and coaching mattered and it just seemed clean. Then the men's head coach was arrested and found guilty of all kinds of basketball related stuff..."and so it goes."

Is Duke a school?

I would be interested in knowing what the GPA and class load of these athletes are. Here in Washington, we learned recently that some high school students were getting grades in classes invented for them and essentially they just sat there. We have seen examples over the years of tutors actually doing the work for these students. In that I agree with Mr. Zirin that the system is corrupt.

I applauded Western Washington University when it eliminated it's football team when it's budget forced them to face priorities. They knew what many institutions fail to realize: that they are schools by name and function. If they are existing on the public dime at all, they need to be held accountable for academic results first and foremost. If a student cannot maintain a required GPA, then not only should his sports activities be jeopardized, so should his place in school be, as well.

What a facile article

I have never been a Duke fan, but you cannot attribute all of the NCAA head coach ugly stereotypes to Coach K. As far as NCAA shadiness goes, Coach K is an exception rather than a serious culprit. Coach K has accomplished a lot more good than what you attribute to Steve Spurrier, who merely gave a sexy quote.

Coach K's award NCAA repeal both

Sorry that I have just this weekend discovered this column and this writer...
I've said for 20 years that the NCAA needs to be pulverized and re-established. No, actually, let's not re-establish it.
Let's create something equitable for the people who break their backs and ruin their knees for the enterprise.
This is another case of the 1% and the 99%.
Coach K is just the poster boy.
Establishment keeps another group down and some feel the second-class citizens are supposed to smile all the way to the food line or the unemployment line once their eligibility is used up.
Covering pro sports ... university and hs for 17 years in America, i could cite cases.
But nobody listens as long as there is a jump ball to be tossed somewhere this weekend.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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