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Monday, December 22, 2014

Resist the temptation to taunt Eustachy for his past

There’s no reason to heckle a man for what happened 10 years ago.

March 19, 2013

Larry Eustachy knows the University of Missouri all too well.

The Colorado State head coach, whose team was matched up against the Tigers in its first game of the upcoming NCAA Tournament, suffered the greatest embarrassment of his career ten years ago in Columbia. It had nothing to do with the result on the court — a 64-59 loss for the Iowa State program he then led — but what transpired afterward.

Later that year, the Des Moines Register acquired photos of the Eustachy allegedly taken during a party at a Columbia apartment after the game. The sight of the then-47 year old, turtleneck-wearing coach kissing female students with a can of Natty Light in hand, are as surreal as you’d imagine.

Reports of Eustachy’s behavior only made the situation more bizarre. Missouri students at the party told The Maneater that Eustachy asked a woman for oral sex and threatened to fight another man who was upset at Eustachy for holding his girlfriend’s waist. The coach only left the party after the apartment’s residents called a cab for him at about 5 a.m.

The scandal that followed was at once farcical and tragic. Iowa State, after seeing the photos and hearing of a similar Jan. 22 incident at a Kansas State fraternity, suspended Eustachy for violating a morality clause in his contract on April 30; a week later, the coach decided to resign, instead taking a leave of absence to enter treatment for his alcoholism.

In the ensuing effort to rebuild his life and career, Eustachy has had to pay his dues. Before the Columbia incident, Eustachy was one of the top coaching commodities in college basketball; after leading Iowa State to two Big 12 titles in five years, he could have gotten almost any job he wanted.

Instead, he had to take a year off before landing at lowly Southern Miss, a team that hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1991. (Eustachy got the team back there last year before leaving for Colorado State.)

But the jokes and taunts Eustachy has had to face made his comeback even tougher. The least subtle instance came when Colorado State played at Wyoming, whose student section shouted one word — “alcoholic” — over and over at the opposing coach.

Maybe I’ll come across as a hypocrite here, because I don’t find anything wrong with having some fun at an opposing team’s expense. Fans are supposed to support their team, even if group dynamics lead them to yell some truly stupid stuff under the pretext of creating a hostile environment for the opponent.

But this week, we need to save the jeers for someone other than Larry Eustachy, because there’s nothing funny about addiction. It never goes away. It remains ever present, even for those years removed from its demons, for it is only one weak moment or bad decision away from capturing its victims again. At best, alcoholics face a daily struggle to stay away from the bar; at worst, they cannot beat the disease. Put bluntly, either way it sucks.

You should feel free to yell as loud as possible in support of your team when it does something right, and you should feel free to yell whatever you want at an opponent who does something stupid. But there’s no reason to blatantly target someone for their addiction — especially someone like Eustachy, who lost his mother and two grandparents to alcoholism and by all accounts has reformed his broken habits and relationships — just because he’s coaching the opponent.

Nothing in life — especially not basketball — is important enough for that.

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