Controversial former college basketball coach and current analyst Bobby Knight is no stranger to controversy.
He’s thrown chairs on the court during games, been accused of assaulting his own players and has publicly criticized everyone from rival coaches to referees. Now Knight, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, has drawn heat for something he did in 1979.
The National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC) has denounced the insurance company for hiring Knight as its spokesman and resurrected Knight’s antics in Puerto Rico when he was the coach of U.S. squad at the Pan-American Games.
At the games, Knight got into an argument with a Puerto Rican police officer, José D. Silva, over the use of a practice facility and was charged with punching Silva. In August of 1979, Knight was found guilty in absentia by a Puerto Rican court and given the maximum sentence of a $500 fine and six months in prison.
The then-University of Indiana coach offered to resign from his post at the school, but his offer was rejected and he received statements of support from the school’s president, Indiana’s governor and the executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Some American coaches and players as well as two Colombian coaches who witnessed the incident claimed that Silva deliberately poked Knight in the eye and that Knight reacted by pushing him away.
"There is no question in my mind that if I had gone to Puerto Rico the sentence would be exactly the same. Even forgetting the truth of the charges, it would be interesting to know the last time anyone got the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor,” Knight said, according to Sports Illustrated.
Knight was also quoted decades ago in the magazine talking about Puerto Rican, “F-em, f-em all…The only thing they know how to do is grow bananas.”
The Puerto Rican government gave up trying to extradite Knight in 1987.
The NPRC’s denouncement of the State Farm ad campaign comes on the heels of the incident last Thursday during the NCAA tournament first round meeting between Southern Mississippi and Kansas State. At the game, the SMU band chanted derogatory remarks aimed at KSU player Angel Rodríguez.
The five SMU pep band members who chanted “Where’s your green card?” had their scholarships revoked, were removed from the band and will be required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course this week.
“When we look at these two incidents in tandem, we’re starting to observe a trend in collegiate sports and branding that we certainly don’t like,” said Rafael Fantauzzi, the president and CEO of the NPRC.
Fantauzzi said that the disappointing point of the State Farm ad campaign is that the insurance company has in the past been very receptive to Latino causes and the community.
“State Farm has really taken the lead among the Hispanic community,” Fantauzzi said. “This looks like a misstep and a step backward.”
He added that the NPRC has requested a meeting with State Farm executives, but has not yet heard back from the company.
A State Farm spokesman said that the ad was not meant to offend the community and that Knight was only portraying a character.
“Mr. Knight is not a State Farm spokesperson. He is simply portraying an intimidating hard-to-please customer. Our intent with this commercial, as with all commercials, is to entertain and inform,”said Phil Supple, a State Farm spokesman.
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