Regardless, I want to make this case: his name SHOULD be on Cal's list.
Think LeBron James. Perhaps the most talented young player in the country, Coach Dambrot worked with and coached LeBron since he was 13. And while LeBron is undeniably a stellar athlete, that talent had to be coached to the levels that LeBron now displays.
"He's been like a father to me", says LeBron, "I owe him everything." To cement that thought, consider the moment at a press conference in Akron recently when LeBron announced his intention to go straight to the NBA, and LeBron's mother planted a kiss on Dambrot's cheek. That was Gloria James' way of saying thanks to one of the key men who shaped her son's future.
I recall a conversation with Coach Braun a couple of years ago when Keith Dambrot's name surfaced on CyberBears. At the time, the old controversy had resurfaced about an event when Coach Dambrot used the N-word in consensual circumstances with his Central Michigan players. When the posts on CyberBears were brought to Coach Braun's attention, he commented that the criticism was not well based on the facts of the case, and that he knew Keith well and knew him to be a good person and an excellent coach.
Those old issues might surface again if Keith were to become a candidate, but need not be belabored now; we'll have time to do that on CyberBears, if needed, as the search for the new assistant coach unfolds. But just to make one observation: as I see it, Coach Dambrot might have made the mistake of allowing himself to become TOO close to his players, to be so close to them personally that he dared to step across semantic boundaries that we have all learned to avoid. Perhaps there is wisdom in the idea that a coach must hold himself apart from the team, to be a coach and a mentor, but not to put himself on their level.
Nevertheless, the key fact is this: Coach Dambrot asked his players for permission to use the language he did, and they gave their consent. Maybe he shouldn't even have asked, but in the actual event no offense was given, and no offense was taken. Controversy erupted only later from others who were not part of the group, who were not present, who had no direct personal knowledge of the situation.
Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy (himself an African-American), who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, devoted eight pages in a book to the Keith Dambrot incident, and concluded that Central Michigan authorities "capitulated too quickly to the formulaic rage of affronted blacks, the ill-considered sentimentality of well-meaning whites, and their own crass, bureaucratic opportunism." Strong words from a man well qualified to comment on the events.
Did Keith Dambrot make a mistake? Yes, I believe he did. But was it egregious racism? I wonder how that term could be applied when he explicitly and personally asked for permission.
So let's in turn also consider these questions, which may be of some importance to Cal basketball fans:
a) Has he moved beyond the controversy? Yes. Ask the other African American athletes he has coached since, like LeBron James, how they feel about him. Or ask Charles or Carl Thomas, NBA players, who regularly stay at Coach Dambrot's house when they visit the area. Or consider the speeches he has given urging people to learn from his experience, to respect the power of language.
b) Can he coach? Yes, certainly, with success at both the college and high school levels, including two consecutive State Championships.
c) Can he recruit? Absolutely. And the notoriety that comes with being LeBron James' coach can only help.
So even a potential candidacy presents Cal fans with a choice that demands careful thought. Should we allow an ambiguous situation that happened 10 years ago, one that resulted in controversy that itself has been condemned by worthy commentators, to turn us away from a highly qualified coach? Or should we look these facts squarely in the eye and say that this is a man who has learned from his experience, has risen above it, and could be an excellent addition to the Cal coaching staff? I know how LeBron James would answer that question.
Cal may or may not consider Keith Dambrot for the position, and will certainly consider others. I personally hope Keith makes it to the list and is considered on his merits.
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