Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Beating the school rules," Sept. 23, 2000

What Bob Knight had trouble learning
Tragic character
A concept neglected in the anything-goes 1960s and 1970s, "character," has been making a comeback in recent years. This week, that commendable trend caught up with Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight. His weaknesses in character•stubborn pride, temper tantrums, defiance of authority•were tolerated for three decades. But IU President Myles Brand fired the coach not just for grabbing a student's arm, but for failing to show character by living up to standards of behavior set for Mr. Knight earlier this year. Coach Knight has long been a controversial figure, but his ability to field winning teams went a long way in Indiana, where basketball is sometimes called a religion. Some observers contended that the coach got away with obnoxious and bad behavior for so long because he kept winning. But now, across the country and across the political spectrum, government and business leaders are emphasizing the importance of respect, trustworthiness, initiative, and determination. In Mr. Knight's home state, Gov. Frank O'Bannon has visited schools to praise their character emphasis programs. Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson visits schools on a regular basis and gives out Character Counts awards. The City-County Council has voted to make Indianapolis a "city of character." In South Carolina, Gov. Jim Hodges has proposed a character program to have public-school students address teachers and school administrators with courtesy titles: "Yes, sir!" Evangelical Christians are behind some of these initiatives, which teach biblical principles without direct reference to the Bible. Other backers come from non-religious backgrounds. The Character Counts Coalition is a coalition of nonprofit groups such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The International Association of Character Cities promotes the importance of character in government circles and in business. Such groups have been growing quickly in response to a hunger for character, fueled by the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the activities of President Clinton. Bob Knight, in one sense, ran a character education program before the task was cool. He took players to much higher levels of determination and intensity than they had thought they could demonstrate. He helped them achieve diligence and self-control. His beneficial influence went well beyond the basketball court; many former players speak gratefully of his impact on their lives. He helped many people at a personal level, without letting the right hand know what his left hand was doing. All those strengths, combined with winning teams, helped create a tolerance for weaknesses that finally resulted in the loss of his coaching position this week. He could not follow what legendary coach John Wooden of UCLA, a native of Indiana, always advised: "Practice self-discipline, keep emotions under control." Mr. Knight had trouble learning the humility and self-discipline needed for a balance with his strengths. His downfall is a warning to everyone that weaknesses sown in character will reap results at some point of testing. •Russ Pulliam Legislators approve PNTR for china, reject amendments
Senate: Trade at any price
The Clinton administration and its free-trade allies on Capitol Hill last week made it plain that there is no price too high to pay for permanent free trade with China. Lawmakers moved to strike all amendments before voting on the bill to grant Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) to the communist government in Beijing, already approved by the House last May. The Senate defeated three amendments that would have put China on a good-behavior regimen in order to maintain its free-trade privileges:

  • an amendment by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) to retain annual review of U.S.-China relations, as has been required under a 1974 law on trade with communist states (defeated 81-13)
  • an amendment by Sen. Robert Byrd (D- W. Va.) to require the United States to support the transfer of clean energy technology as part of any energy assistance to China (defeated 65-31)
  • an amendment by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) to require the president to certify that China was allowing religious freedom before it could receive normal trade status (defeated 69-28).

Still pending but likely to be defeated: an amendment by Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) linking trade relations to China's compliance with weapons proliferation agreements. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a leading supporter of PNTR, was clear about why the Senate showed little concern for religious freedom, national security, and even the environment: "We Americans would be giving up all the market-opening benefits that China has agreed to." Republican and Democratic supporters of the trade bill were quick to scuttle amendments because those riders would send the bill back to the House. Members of the House may not have time to vote on the changes before adjournment and elections•throwing a wrench into preelection promises to the big-business constituency that wants lowered tariffs. But senators had to look the other way to ignore red flags about China's ability to be a good partner, trade or otherwise:

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