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What Bob Huggins said isn’t the issue. What he thinks is.

What Bob Huggins said isn't the issue. What he thinks is.

The thing about Bob Huggins using — and these are his words now — a “completely insensitive and abhorrent phrase that there is simply no excuse for” is that it had to come from somewhere. That somewhere is in the forefront of Huggins’s mind. He wanted to make fun of students from an old rival, Jesuit school Xavier University, and the way to crack a joke that leaped into his 69-year-old brain was to blanket them with an anti-gay slur. Hysterical.

What Huggins’s employer, West Virginia University, does with its men’s basketball coach after Huggins revealed himself as a homophobe on a Cincinnati radio show Monday is almost secondary. He is exposed for who he is, because in what the hosts were framing as a casual discussion about transfers, Huggins grabbed hold of the conversation and took it directly in an indefensible direction. The audio has a strong it’s-just-us-guys-here vibe to it, and we know the humor just us guys enjoy when the doors are closed, right?

The particulars: With Huggins as his guest by phone, longtime Cincinnati radio host Bill Cunningham asked the coach if his incoming class of transfers included any former Xavier players. Huggins coached at Cincinnati for 16 seasons and knows intimately the rivalry known as the Crosstown Shootout.

“Any school that can throw rubber penises on the floor and then say they didn’t do it, my God, they can get away with anything,” Huggins said, a reference to — well, that’s not entirely clear.

Bob Huggins apologizes for using homophobic slur in radio appearance

Cunningham, who was joined in studio by former Huggins assistant coach Steve Moeller, guffawed. Cunningham then tossed in what he clearly believed was a joke: “I think it was ‘transgender night,’ wasn’t it?”

The door was open. Huggins eagerly stepped through it.

“What it was all those f–s, those Catholic f–s, I think,” he said. There was an awkward pause before Huggins said, “They were envious they didn’t have one.”

“Steve, your comments about Bob Huggins,” Cunningham said. “Is he the best?”

“He’s the best,” Moeller responded.

This all would have been offensive in 1973, let alone 2023. It would be galling had it been uttered by an adjunct professor without tenure, let alone the highest-paid public employee in the state, someone granted more than $4.25 million in 2022. Late Monday afternoon, Huggins was posting an apology through the Mountaineers’ Twitter account. The apology, in its entirety:

“Earlier today on a Cincinnati radio program, I was asked about the rivalry between my former employer, the University of Cincinnati, and its crosstown rival, Xavier University,” the statement said. “During the conversation, I used a completely insensitive and abhorrent phrase that there is simply no excuse for — and I won’t try to make one here. I deeply apologize to the individuals I have offended, as well as the Xavier University community, the University of Cincinnati and West Virginia University. As I have shared with my players over my 40 years of coaching, there are consequences for our words and actions, and I will fully accept any coming my way. I am ashamed and embarrassed and heartbroken for those I have hurt. I must do better, and I will.”

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In a world littered with If-I-offended-anybody-I’m-sorry non-apology apologies, this is a step up. But it doesn’t get to what matters here. It’s not that Huggins felt comfortable saying what he said in a public forum. It’s that he had the thoughts in the first place.

Imagine being a West Virginia player, a West Virginia staff member, a West Virginia student assistant who identifies as LGBTQ. How you felt about Huggins on Sunday and what you know about him Tuesday have to be completely different, and the bell can’t be unrung. There is raw honesty in that audio that is alarming, an attempt to turn sexual identity into humor. How could a gay person work for or with Huggins not just because of what he said but because of what those words reveal about how he thinks? The mouth doesn’t form the words unless they’re already living in the brain, which means somewhere in Huggins’s inner workings he thinks it’s okay to belittle someone because they’re gay.

Maybe this will register as a blip for a man who has been a head coach for 38 Division I seasons and won 863 games. Maybe it will cost him his job. In a statement Monday, WVU said it “takes such actions very seriously. The situation is under review and will be addressed by the university and its athletic department.”

I have covered Bob Huggins’s games. I do not know Bob Huggins. But I do know him better than I did over the weekend. And the disturbing part about that new familiarity isn’t so much that the words were broadcast on the air and later distributed on the internet. The disturbing part is that a man entrusted with molding young minds kept that kind of thinking in his own.

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