Juwan Howard’s slap flap fits disturbing trend

Forget about any perceived slights on and off the court, who touched whom, or what was said before Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard swung and slapped the head of Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft on Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison.

None of those details matters much.

The bottom line is this: Violence is never OK from a leader, coach and mentor of young people.

The Big Ten suspended Howard without pay for the final five games of his team’s regular season. He should consider himself lucky his discipline wasn’t worse.

If you aggressively strike someone in pretty much any professional work setting, from fast food to Fortune 500, you are shown the door, especially if you have a history of temper tantrums. And Howard had a previous run-in with Maryland’s basketball coach.

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Howard is hardly the first coach to pull such a stunt. Bobby Knight slapped Kentucky’s coach in the back of the head, was accused of choking a player and threw a chair onto the court (among other brutish behavior) before Indiana University finally fired him in 2000. Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes was fired in 1978 after punching a Clemson player following an interception.

Those incidents were decades ago. Coaching and the rest of civil society have progressed and evolved — at least we’d like to think they have — to demand better behavior and to hold violators accountable.

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That’s what the Big Ten is doing. And if Howard doesn’t offer a sincere apology and admit he was wrong — in person, not via press release — he should be held out of this spring’s tournament games.

Big-time college sports can be intense, with plenty of pushing, shoving and hard fouls. But Howard is a coach, not a player. He needs to lead by example for those he’s guiding.

The same is true of adults across society, which seems to be backsliding on civility.

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Think of the local school board members who have had to endure shouting, threats and dead animals tossed onto the lawns of their private homes because of public policy decisions. Think of the crude insults that infect American politics and social media.

Think of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, when mobs beat police officers and chanted about hanging the vice president at the US Capitol while trying to overturn the presidential election by force.

Compared to that, Howard’s actions seem trivial. Yet it’s all part of a general corrosion of behavior, which the adults in the room need to stop.

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Former President Donald Trump accelerated the trend of taunts and broken norms while in the White House. But even he was a symptom, not the disease.

Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard could have done better Sunday, too. Instead of grabbing Howard to try to force a discussion about something Howard had rudely said, Gard should have let it go and called him later after Howard cooled down.

But a blatant physical attack — Howard swung with a lot of force at somebody who didn’t touch him — can never be tolerated, especially by our universities.

Civility must be the rule, and we all should try to behave a little better in heated moments, wherever we may find them. The next generation will be watching.

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