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Bob Huggins should have been fired, but West Virginia chose cowardice instead

With Bob Huggins, West Virginia had the chance to do the right thing. But when faced with an opportunity to stand up for the LGBTQ+ community and demonstrate zero tolerance for hate speech, it said, “Nah.”

The Mountaineers’ 69-year-old men’s basketball coach appeared on a Cincinnati radio show Monday and repeatedly used a homophobic slur while he and the host mocked solidarity for the transgender community.

Once the clip of Huggins’ interview hit the internet, the outraged reaction was swift, with many convinced there was no way the head coach could or should return to the sidelines. After all, Huggins casually employed an odious slur that should be extinct from everyone’s vocabulary.

But instead of firing Huggins — who’s been with the Mountaineers since 2007 — West Virginia spinelessly offered up a slap on the wrist that keeps him on the sidelines as one of the state’s highest paid public employees.

His penance for hate speech? A tiny suspension, sensitivity training, a million-dollar salary reduction and an amended year-to-year contract that went into effect Wednesday. Oh yeah, sure, making $3.15 million instead of $4.15 million while sitting out just three whole games — it’s laughable.

The issue with Huggins here is just as much about what he said as how he said it.

If a hateful slur is uttered with seemingly tremendous ease, and more than once, it’s reasonable to think that word is part of that person’s vocabulary, rather than a mistake. And if this is a word Huggins employs casually without hesitation, he has no business coaching young athletes and being arguably the face of West Virginia athletics.

But let’s back up to Monday’s radio appearance with Huggins and WLW-AM host Bill Cunningham.

While discussing the Xavier-Cincinnati basketball rivalry, Huggins — who coached the Bearcats from 1989 to 2005 — and Cunningham recalled an incident from the teams’ Crosstown Shootout matchup when “rubber penises” were tossed on the court. After Cunningham joked that it was transgender night, Huggins chimed in with his anti-gay slur — the same revolting language former Cincinnati Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was fired for using in 2020.

“What it was, was all those [expletive],” Huggins said. And then he momentarily stumbled over his words.

For a split second, it seemed like he knew he used a slur and was about to backtrack or, perhaps, apologize for his vile language. Clearly, that was giving him far too much credit because while he did correct himself, it was only to ensure the word “Catholic” preceded his slur.

Huggins continued: “Those, those Catholic [expletive] I think threw them.”

Despite the appearance of an awkward pause, Huggins’ bigoted garbage was followed by on-air laughs and praise for him as “the best.” Far from it for anyone with some semblance of humanity.

Not only is there a good chance he’s alienated himself from his players, as USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Freeman noted, but, despite a wanting apology, he’s also shown his true feelings about already marginalized folks, against whom hate crimes and suicide contemplation and rates, especially among LGBTQ+ youth, are on the rise.

Is he really a person West Virginia wants representing it? Recruiting for it? Speaking for it? It’s shameful for West Virginia that the answers appear to be yes — despite calling his language “insensitive, offensive” and not representative of the school’s values.

A statement from the athletics department noted the $1 million from Huggins’ salary “will be used to directly support WVU’s LGBTQ+ Center,” which is a good thing. It’s also requiring Huggins to meet with LGBTQ+ leaders around the state, and it plans to develop required annual trainings to “address all aspects of inequality including homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism and more.” Also good.

But the Mountaineers didn’t go far enough, and the requirements of Huggins are actions he should be taking anyway to be a decent human being, regardless of retaining his job or not.

In a statement on Twitter, Morgantown Pride, an organization promoted by the university, wrote in part:

We believe that this incident requires the termination of Bob Huggins as this type of rhetoric creates a space in which students, community members and most especially players are NOT SAFE. However, if WV Athletics chooses the wrong path and does not ask Bob Huggins to resign, the culture that he has obviously cultivated in which individuals feel so comfortable saying homophobic slurs that they would do so whilst being interviewed, requires significant investment of both time and labor to correct.

Firing Huggins would have been the correct first step in making amends after this incident. It would have sent a clear message of solidarity and shown the LGBTQ+ people and everyone else on campus, within the fan base and in the locker room that this kind of language is unacceptable no matter what. It also would have publicly demonstrated that West Virginia values the well-being and livelihoods of everyone, not just the cis straight folks.

Especially at a time when LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against with basic rights being stripped away, homophobic language is disgraceful. From anyone. And Huggins should have known, in 2023, that word is a slur — and why.

But rather than deal appropriate consequences, the Mountaineers opted for cowardice, allowing Huggins to still make millions with a measly three-game suspension and implying bigoted language is tolerated.

It doesn’t matter what year you were born in or if you’re from “another time.” Society is supposed to evolve, and treating people with respect and dignity is what we as a collective should strive for.

Keeping Huggins in Morgantown is a disservice to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as to Mountaineer athletes, students, employees and fans. Coaching is a privilege, and Huggins has made millions over the years with success in college hoops. But it’s a privilege he no longer deserves.


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