Accuse Michigan coach Brady Hoke of having shortcomings galore, but one thing you can’t criticize Hoke for is not standing behind his football players. For on that score, the man is a star.
And they are.
In this crazy society of ours, people are quick to play the racist when they can hide behind anonymity. With bogus email addresses and nameless blog posts, they can say whatever they want about a person, and it’s a lot easier to call a man anything but mister when no one knows who’s doing the calling.
"I tell our players, with social media, sometimes you ask for it, because you want to get on when things are good and bad,” Hoke said in USA TODAY. “But there's no place for anybody to racially have slurs."
Football fans at Power Five programs can be fickle and feckless, and those who root for the Wolverines can be the worst of the bunch. They’ve driven off a couple of head coaches in the past decade, and those same fans are about to drive off another in Hoke.
But Hoke knows the score. You win at Michigan or you get fired. That’s the hard bargain a man makes with the devil when he agrees to coach at a powerhouse program like Michigan.
Devin Gardner, however, made no such bargain – with the devil or anybody else. He came to Michigan to play football; he didn’t come to Ann Arbor to have fans email racist rants his way.
"I've been called the n-word so many times this year," Gardner told The Detroit News the other day. "One guy told me I was the n-word, and said I know n-words can't play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this?"
No, Devin, you aren’t past it. You’re no more past racism than the Black man who sits in the Oval Office is past it. President Barack Obama hears the racist rhetoric from every quarter. His curriculum vitae and his public profile haven’t insulated him from empty-headed comments.
Gardner’s stature and credentials haven’t insulated him either. No matter that Gardner, a senior, has led the Wolverines to some classic wins; no matter that he’s on his way to two degrees from perhaps America’s finest public institution. All of his successes seem as if they mean absolutely nothing in the face of his unforgivable Blackness.
Coach Hoke can’t understand any of it.
He’s quick to remind these critics how well the 22-year-old Gardner, a solid Michigan man, has represented their university. But who listens to a head coach when they’re trying hard to usher the man out the back door?
But listen to Hoke we must, because he calls the men and women behind the hateful emails to a Black athlete what they are: cowards.
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(Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images)