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Saturday, April 18, 2009
Reaction to Thomas among FIU factulty

Not surprised this is happening: The director of women's studies at FIU is organizing protests against the hiring of Isiah Thomas as men's basketball coach, relating to Thomas having been found liable (along with the Knicks and the team owner) for the sexual harassment of a Knicks employee.

I was surprised we did not hear more from these faculty members early in the week, from when the rumors of the hiring began on Sunday until the press conference on Wednesday. But it all happened so quickly, no one had time to get a statement or protest organized. But this is a legitimate objection to the hiring, one I mentioned initially and one that I hope gave the administration genuine pause before making this move. This is the one element of risk (more than Thomas' ability as a basketball coach and recruiter, where he cannot be much worse than recent past coaches) that could come back to bite the university.

Women's studies is planning to hand-deliver a copy of the FIU Sexual Harassment Policy to Thomas at the men's basketball office--a cute, but somewhat in-your-face, publicity stunt if the goal is genuinely to engage Thomas on this issue. They also want to organize a teach-in on sexual harassment and discrimination, with the hope that Thomas, athletics department administrators, and the new FIU president (who will be announced in a couple of weeks) will participate.


Not surprising of course. But its not Thomas its Thompson, so its a different guy, right? Any way, he's the men's coach not women's so he should be fine.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/18/2009 10:38 AM  

Um, was Thomas coaching the New York Liberty of the WNBA? You really think he is not going to come into contact with any women in the course of his job at a university?

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/18/2009 2:37 PM  

So he does, so he doesn't come into contact with women. Does he have leprosy? Don't you believe in second chances? Anyway, please change the heading of your comment: its "faculty". Thanks.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/18/2009 2:41 PM  

Thanks for worrying about the really important stuff.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/18/2009 4:43 PM  

Look: to be brutally honest, we all know you are entitled to your opinion, Howard, and I too am surprised that this story of protest was not pursued. You're right: it all happened so fast. But do you believe in freedom of contract? It appears not. FIU apparently does. Thomas did not commit a crime. Sure, this hire is controversial, but FIU is in the news! Why don't you mention something positive about the hiring rather than just cut him down at the knees. Sure it could come back to haunt FIU, but that is their issue to deal with. It seems you are focusing more on supporting the women's studies program's march to protest Thomas rather than giving him at least a chance. Have you read his contract? Analyzing that would surely be a positive approach to tie it in to sport law.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/18/2009 6:24 PM  

The man made a mistake. Maybe the Director of Women's Studies could take a minute and come down from her ivory tower. (Insert rolling eyes)

Blogger Pbenn001 -- 4/18/2009 6:49 PM  

Sure, I believe in freedom of contract--but I don't see what that has to do with anything. Freedom of contract does not obligate anyone to contract with someone else. So questioning/criticizing FIU's choices of who to contract with says nothing about any belief in the right to contract.

The success or failure of this is not "their issue to deal with," it also is mine. As a tenured faculty member here, I have an interest in what the university does and the consequences (financial, reputational) it has, good and bad.

As for why I don't "mention something positive about the hiring": Well, for starters, this is the third or fourth post I have written about Thomas and this one is talking about one small issue that is coming up three days later.

Second, I don't actually *see* anything particularly positive about the hiring--or at least, as I said in my initial post, I am not optimistic, think it's a huge risk, and will wait and see. The past lawsuit to one side, he has been a lousy coach and a fair (at best) talent evaluator. There is no evidence to suggest this will be a successful move. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong and I will return to these pages to announce my wrongness if I am.

Finally, I am curious what in anything I have written indicates that I "support" the women's studies protests. I actually have not said anything one way or another

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/18/2009 11:09 PM  

What about the other things he's done for the community the numerous donations,helping kids stay off drugs,the positive speeches and trying to be a good role model which is very hard when your in the news all the time.
Being voted one of the 50 greatest
basketball players in history,voted to the basketball hall of fame,graduating with a law degree all the while taking care of his family, brothers and their families and his Mother
his wife and children so that they could have a better life,not too mention growing up very poor not having food to eat sometimes but pull himself up by his boot straps and making something out of himself, yea he's a bit rough around the edges but look around he's not the only one, he never hit a woman and I think that's more a serious crime.
There are more people around you who have done worse but because their not in the lime light
you don't here of them I believe the man made a mistake and which of us have not, and all we want is to make up for it,from what I seen of him he's done more good than bad
in his life.

Lets all hope that you do not do anything wrong and feel bad about it and all you want to do is make up for it and move on with your life.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/19/2009 3:57 AM  

"I have an interest in what the university does and the consequences (financial, reputational) it has, good and bad"--Actually you don't, Howard. Nor did/do the faculty at Indiana. Nor do the faculty anywhere in major college sports. You are simply not happy with the hire and you are getting your personal views in the way of a business decision that you simply had no part of whatsoever! It would be better (and you would be more credible) if you acted more professorial by giving argument on both sides rather than acting as an advocate, Howard. You are an academic, not the general counsel for FIU. Many contributors to this blog like yourself present such extreme viewpoints on subject matters (oh, Clarett's eternal victim-hood come to mind) that you lose credibility. Then, when someone challenges you, you lash out at them. Just think about it, Bro. Remember: present both sides...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/19/2009 8:59 AM  


Your argument seems to boil down to the fact that you disagree with Howard's view on the Isiah Thomas hiring and you believe he should acknowledge other viewpoints in his blog posts.

Why? This is a blog. We are not a news agency, nor are we in a classroom, and nor are we offering our posts as equivalent to magazine articles, law review articles, or books. There are not, in my view, expectations that we write blog entries in ways that are devoid of advocacy or that equally acknowledge every possible or credible viewpoint.

Along those lines, you seem to equate acting "professorial" with arguing both sides in a blog post. I don't agree. In my view, the forum of a blog does not require "both sides" analysis. If this were a classroom or a law review article, fine, I would see your point. But as I see blogs, and as I think others see blogs, they are informal devices to communicate opinions and analysis. Plus, individuals like yourself can challenge us in the comments section -- that's one of the reasons why we invite (and allow) comments.

I see no problem with you disagreeing with Howard's opinion on the Thomas hiring, it's certainly a debatable topic. But to assert that he HAS to rewrite his blog posts to address other viewpoints seems uncalled for.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 4/19/2009 11:23 AM  

I share Howard's concerns. In the past, I can think of schools who have hired "name" coaches as quick fixes and publicity stunts, disregarding the consequences of that case. I know of one school hired an ex-NBA coach, and it ended up buying the rest of his contract, eating a fair proportion of his inflated salary.

Thomas had a poor track record, even before coming to the Knicks. He purchased and Continental Basketball Association and druing his watch, it was driven into bankruptcy. His tenure as coach of the Indiana Pacers was less than glorious, and of course, nothing more need be said about his time in New York.

FIU will renumerate him rather handsomely, at a time when in colleges and universities throughout the country have been forced to freeze salaries, lay off faculty and administrators and increase class sizes. Howard knows the situation at FIU better than I do, but I can't imagine that it is financial nirvana.

Of course, the school has a right to contract wiht anyone they wish. But in this climate, with this coach, faculty members are justified in expressing their anger. And Howard has every right to state his case in his blog.

Blogger Mark Conrad -- 4/19/2009 3:27 PM  

First: Don't confuse "interest" with "influence." I do have a vested interest (a stake, if you will) in the hire, just as I have an interest in who FIU hires as President or Provost or dean of the college of law (all decisions that are about to be made, over which I have little or no real influence). All those decisions affect the functioning, reputation, and success of this university (and thus my college within the University). This, in turn, affects my ability to perform my job as a scholar and teacher, to work at a law school that attracts good students, to put food on the table and pay for my daughter's education, and, ultimately, to be happy and content in a significant aspect of my life.

Does that mean I have "influence" over the decision to hire Thomas? Of course not. You are right that I had no part in the decision (obviously) and I never have suggested otherwise. All the more reason for me to take advantage of the forum I do have to criticize that decision.

Second, I will go half-way on Mike's point about blogs. In some blog posts I (and, I imagine, my co-bloggers) do act on an obligation to present both sides--such as a post conducting legal analysis of a new case or story. Although note that, even if I present both sides, I still can (indeed must) reach a conclusion on the matter and stick by it. Other posts, such as this one, I view as straight-up opinion pieces, to which different rules apply.

Third, Mike is correct: You have done a very good job in the comments forum of presenting the arguments in favor of this hire. I am not convinced, but neither are you convinced by anything I have written. So maybe we have to agree to disagree. As to why I am not convinced: None of the evidence you point to gets past the fact that there is nothing in Thomas' 15-year record as a coach, administrator, and personnel manager to indicate that he will be any good at this job. Again, we can take Anita Brown entirely out of the equation--that ultimately does little more than create PR problems, make us look a bit silly nationally, and a bit insensitive to some faculty and students. Just focusing on what Thomas has done other than as a player--there is no good reason to give him this job.

I also do not find persuasive some of the points you have made, such as the argument that whatever he did that was bad in the past can be overlooked because he could have done something much worse (i.e., we can look past sexual harassment because he never hit a woman) or because other people have done much worse (I don't want them as the basketball coach at my university, either).

But, as I have said repeatedly, I am happy to be proven wrong when/if Thomas turns FIU into a successful mid-major program (or even better). But that is only going to happen over the course of a couple of years, based on what happens on the court, not on anything written in the comments section of Sports Law Blog.

Finally, I regret that you have perceived this exchange as my "lash[ing] out" at you. The only thing I saw as coming close was an early exchange when you (somewhat snarkily, or so I perceived) pointed out a typo in the title and I (equally snarkily) thanked you for worrying about the important stuff. That was an unfortunate exchange. I am sorry you see the rest of this interaction as my lashing out.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/19/2009 3:45 PM  

Howard has every right to express his opinion on this blog and so does Michael M. and Mark C. and Anonymous. Putting your name out there on this or any other blog really takes some guts anyway--no doubt there will those who agree and those who disagree. While I feel that there should be a limit on the number of times the use of the word "snark" can be used in this section, it is quite clear that Thomas does NOT have a good track record at all, especially recently. He IS controversial. Why would the President, Athletic Director and General Counsel at FIU hire the guy? Unless they address the issue, we can only speculate. Will he succeed? We can only guess. Are sexual harassment issues addressed in his contract? Don't know, might be a good idea. But, seriously, to give the Women's Studies program any say, power or authority in this matter (other than in this blog or the student newspaper) is a bit ridiculous, don't you think? Is their department unified in this? Anyway, are there other factulty at FIU who are concerned/excited about the hire and have expressed their opinion? It will be interesting to see if the department attempts to hold a press conference on this matter--wow, that would be exciting and riddled with plenty of first amendment protection issues!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/19/2009 7:10 PM  

Wow. Check out the Women's Studies website at FIU:
No wonder they want to organize a protest against Thomas. OMG, how extremely embarrassing is that picture to that university!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/19/2009 7:59 PM  

Wait--I take that comment back. I didn't realize that the picture is almost 100 years old.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/19/2009 8:17 PM  

Thomas' hire is very curious. Seems like the faculty have the right to be concerned at the very least. Sad that only the Women's Studies department appears to stand up to this (maybe others did, too, I just don't know). Really sad that it is just a constant reminder that the faculty are basically irrelevant in today's NCAA major college sports environment.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/20/2009 12:15 PM  

As a Knick fan, FIU can have Mr. Thomas, and good riddance.

Even if we can ignore the sexual harrassment lawsuit, this is all you need to know about Isiah Thomas the coach: When he was coaching the Knicks, Greg Anthony criticized his strategy on ESPN. The next day, without being prompted, he said something to the effect that I kicked his butt on the court for years, and he has a lot of nerve to tell me what to do (I'm paraphrasing).

With that attitude, he will never be a successful coach, because only about 15 people on earth can give him advice.

Anonymous Glenn -- 4/20/2009 7:20 PM  

Wait, did someone say Isiah Thomas had a law degree?

Anonymous Devin Black -- 4/21/2009 4:10 AM  

I don't feel strongly one way or the other about this hire on a strictly basketball level. Thomas certainly had some poor performances in the CBA and the NBA, but college is very different. It's as much about recruiting as it is coaching. Does Thomas still have enough credibility with high school kids to be an effective recruiter? That's the question. I don't know the answer, but we'll find out in about two years -- the time it takes for his first recruits to start playing significant minutes.

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