Holy Family must address coach's ugly incident

John O'Connor's apology on national TV was not accepted by sophomore Matt Kravchuk.
John O'Connor's apology on national TV was not accepted by sophomore Matt Kravchuk.
Posted: February 25, 2011

The only thing louder than the hubbub surrounding what happened at an early-morning Holy Family University basketball practice one month ago today is the silence emanating from the school's administration.

Basketball coach John O'Connor has resigned his position as a result of the controversy that followed an incident during the Jan. 25 practice in which he struck sophomore forward Matt Kravchuk. O'Connor said the extent of the contact was unintentional. Kravchuk, who filed a criminal assault charge, disagrees. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office didn't find sufficient evidence of criminal intent to pursue prosecution.

That's where the story stands, still waiting for someone from the Holy Family administration to pop from the rabbit hole and say something about the incident. The school's lawyers are probably advising that less is more, and any admission of wrongdoing on the part of the school or one of its employees could open the way for a nasty, little civil suit.

But unless Holy Family wants to become known as the little Catholic school where coaches make the sign of the right cross, then it is time to come forward and say what the university stands for, if anything. Just a little press release would be fine. Something along the lines of: "Holy Family University regrets the incident. We do not condone the injuring of students by instructors - even if they can't properly execute a rebounding drill."

That would suffice, although it would be a little late for a response to an incident that was reported to the school's athletic director the day it happened. O'Connor continued to coach the team and would no doubt still be coaching if the practice altercation had not become embarrassingly public last week, when he was indefinitely suspended. Thus far, nothing about the way Holy Family has handled this has been right. So, any time now, folks.

As for the merits of the two sides of the incident, there is a lot you can see on the practice tape - which conveniently made its way to local television soon after it landed in the Kravchuk legal camp - and there is a lot you can't. It was a "combat rebounding" drill in which two players fight for a loose ball, then turn and go after the next one as it comes off the rim or backboard. Kravchuk chases down one of the loose balls and O'Connor appears to grab for the ball, with his shoulder knocking down Kravchuk in the process. Defenders of the coach will say the incident is out of context if you see only the few moments in which O'Connor sends Kravchuk sprawling and then prods the fallen 19-year-old with a foot. Defenders of the player will say no context is necessary when a coach smacks one of his players hard enough to give him a bloody nose. And then kicks him.

O'Connor and Kravchuk appeared side-by-side on Good Morning America on Thursday. The coach said that hurting Kravchuk was "accidental" and "unintentional," but when host George Stephanopoulos asked O'Connor if he thought he crossed the line, O'Connor said: "Not really." That's a nifty semantic trick when a guy is on the floor bleeding from the nose. O'Connor said he just wanted to keep the drill going quickly, implying that he had no animosity toward the player and that Kravchuk had done nothing wrong. If so, it's hard to understand why he threw Kravchuk out of practice just a few moments after screaming, "Got a little f- blood on you? Good."

The coach offered an apology on nationwide television, but Kravchuk rebuffed him, and that probably sealed O'Connor's fate at Holy Family. Maybe the school told O'Connor it would be best to resign. Maybe the coach recognized that as the smartest play on the dry-erase board of his options. Either way, he gathered the players off-campus Thursday evening and gave them the news.

Who, then, is the victim here? Let's leave aside for a moment the suspicion that any Division II basketball coach who feels a need to record every practice - rebounding drills! - just might take himself and other things a little too seriously. It is cheap, hip-pocket psychology, but if you don't have perspective about the little stuff, then the bigger stuff, like not whacking around the kids, might elude you, too.

Is that the case in this instance? Who knows? You would have to be in that gym every day to know the answer. Not for the 30 seconds that comprise the hot frames of the video. Not the several minutes of the entire rebounding drill. But in that gym for every practice to know whether John O'Connor is a good coach caught in a bad situation, or a hothead blinded to propriety by his intensity.

That's not the public's job to decide, even with as soothing a guide as George Stephanopoulos. That's not the media's job to decide, either, although the debate has spun the radio dials and produced clicks on the websites. And it's not for either John O'Connor or Matt Kravchuk to decide.

Holy Family University has to come out and say what happened in its gym between its employee and one of its students. This is supposedly an institution dedicated to education, and it is past time to let us know what it has learned. Ethics is a pass or fail subject. You can't just audit the course.


Bob Ford:

Amid national controversy, Holy Family coach John O'Connor steps down. A1.

 


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com and read

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