Bo Ryan Let Us Down
I have never met former UW-Madison men’s basketball head coach Bo Ryan, nor attended even one of the games. Anything I know about him or the team is gained from the front pages of the sports section of the Wisconsin State Journal. Yet for me, for some reason, Ryan stood above others in local sports, a cut above the rest.
It always seemed that should I run into him in a department store his Midwestern ease and affable nature would allow for a minute of conversation. The sports stories made it seem like we already knew him–before even shaking his hand for the first time.
So it would be fair to say I was shocked when the news broke publically on Saturday that Ryan had been investigated for misusing university funds while involved in a long-term extramarital affair. I was aware that many questions abounded about his departure as head coach and that rumors were floating. But never once did I think there was any credence to the one that came to light this weekend. Once learning of it I have been sad and upset.
Why exactly does this Ryan story rankle me so? After all I am not a sports fan in the way most people are in this city or around the state. If pressed to talk with intelligence about sports I can only go as deep as those newspaper pages allow me to venture. So I have thought about my feelings and can narrow them down to two main reasons.
The first reason this bothers me is that once again someone in the public eye, and in this case someone who was trusted to shape and mold the characters of young men, has let us down. I am most confident that folks around the state are feeling the same thing. Is there not anyone that we can have faith in to not make bad choices in their personal lives? Is there not one person we can honestly say to our youth ‘here is someone to model yourself after’? Perhaps people are not sure how to express it but this weekend there is that gnawing question of where have all our heroes gone?
Sports plays such a tremendous role in our society and as such when a person becomes a public figure on the court or field, or on the sidelines as a coach there needs to be a constant internal reminder of a need to conduct oneself with higher standards. People in the public eye who have been granted with their talent to play sports or lead teams have an obligation–one that is unwritten and old-fashioned to be sure–to walk a bit straighter.
The second reason this bothers me has to do with how the bonds of marriage can be taken for granted. I do not wish to sound puritanical or unaware of the complexities of relationships. But having seen how a nearly six decade marriage with my parents worked and then fighting politically so my partner and I can be wed this year makes me aware the words of commitment to another in a wedding vow is the most sincere experience that can ever take place. The fact that marriages fail and vows are broken make me genuinely sad.
As I type this post I recall several weeks ago watching an old episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson which featured Jimmy Stewart. He recited the famous teary-eyed poem written about his dog, Bo. During the interview with the former king of late-night TV Stewart mentioned his wife Gloria. There was always this sweet affectionate tone he used when speaking about the woman he was married to for almost 50 years. Many years ago when he died it was noted in the news his last words were “I am going to be with Gloria”. Just one of those pieces of trivia that romantic guys like me remember.
The reason I mention that story is to underscore how sad this weekend’s news is for everyone. Sports fans who look up to these personalities, parents who wish their kids to have solid role models, or guys like me who think in the midst of all the chaos there are still good guys left standing have all been let down. There is no way the affair can be explained or rationalized. There is no way to undo the damage.
Ryan is hardly the last person who will create such news or foster such feelings from the rest of us once the story breaks. This type of story is all too common. If I were to capture the feelings of many in a headline for the newspaper it would be short and to the point.
Bo Ryan let us down.