I’ve been a UC basketball fan since we came here in the late 1960’s. Oscar Robertson, perhaps the greatest college player of all times, starred for UC’s team from 1958 to 1960, and the school won national championships in 1961 and 1962. Part of that tradition is the Crosstown Shootout, the annual game between UC and local rival, Xavier University. Cincinnati’s two Division One college teams are frequently ranked in the top 25 in the country, and the inter-city matchup between schools a mere two miles apart involves the closest proximity of major college basketball rivalries in the nation. Xavier is a smaller, Jesuit university with a higher academic ranking and more of an elitist private school feel about it. UC is a much larger public university with slightly more of a blue collar aura. Members of the two teams play summer basketball together, know one anothers’ games well, and are eager to establish local bragging rights. The game has been going on since 1927, and UC has had the upper hand overall (48 vs. 31 victories). Xavier, however, had won 8 of the last 12 games, and, enjoying a No. 8 national ranking so far this year, they have been the clear favorite this time around. The competition was intensified the week beforehand when controversial local talk-radio show host Andy Furman interviewed UC guard Sean Kilpatrick and elicited Kilpatrick’s opinion that he was superior to Xavier’s All-American guard, Tu Holloway (who Kilpatrick suggested wouldn’t even be able to start on UC’s team).
Saturday’s game started off very closely for the first fifteen minutes – 8 ties and 6 lead changes. Then, with about five minutes left in the half, Tu Holloway sank a three-pointer which began a 12-0 run for Xavier. Xavier went on to outscore UC 42-28 in the second half, resulting in one of the largest blowouts in the series’ history, 76-53. With 15 seconds left in the game Holloway said something to UC’s bench as he ran down the court. Later he reported, “I was just saying that it’s my city right here. I’m cut from a different cloth. None of those guys on that team are like me.” With 9.4 seconds left, Holloway and UC freshman Ge’Lawn Guyn engaged in a heated verbal exchange, and XU freshman Dezmine Wells shoved Guyn to the floor. Both benches emptied, and players from the two teams engaged in an all-out brawl, pushing, shoving, and throwing elbows and punches, while coaches and staff members tried to break up the fight. During the melee 6’-9” UC senior center and star Yancy Gates landed a Mike Tyson-like punch over the left eye of 7-foot Xavier center Kenny Frease, and another of UC’s big men, junior Cheikh Mbodj, kicked Frease after he had fallen to the ground. When Frease was helped up, the left side of his face was bathed in blood. The officials declared the game over, and Holloway got on top of the scorers’ table, yelling about the victory. Eventually the two teams were escorted from the floor in what had become a tense and dangerous situation.
The respective coaches and university officials quickly issued strong statements condemning the outbreak. UC coach Mick Cronin said, “There is no excuse for any of it, on our side, on their side…We accept full responsibility. It will be handled. There is zero excuse for that in basketball. You’ve got to learn how to win on one side. You’ve got to learn how to lose on the other side.” Xavier coach Chris Mack allowed his starting guards, Holloway and Mark Lyons, to do post-game interviews (a move that he later regretted), and neither player expressed any sort of apology. Holloway said that the game’s hostile atmosphere was due to Kilpatrick’s statements in his earlier radio interview with Andy Furman: “We got disrespected a little bit before the game, guys calling us out. We’re a tougher team. We’re grown men over here. We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room, not thugs but tough guys on the court. We went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game.” Mark Lyons added, “At the end of the day, if someone puts their hands in your face or tries to do something to you, where we’re from, we’re going to do something back. We’re not going to sit there and get our face beat in by somebody like Yancy Gates or somebody like that”
A day later UC issued six-game suspensions for Gates, Mbodj, and one of the freshman players who had swung punches, as well as a one-game suspension for Guyn who had been involved in the initial confrontation. Xavier suspended Wells for four games; Lyons and a walk-on player for two games; and Tu Holloway for one game. Players publicly apologized or retracted earlier statements. The Hamilton County prosecutor’s office announced it was exploring the possibility of felony charges.
The brawl elicited a lot of distress on many people’s parts: the players, the coaches, university officials, alumni and fans, reporters, and the general public. While the media took a moralistic tone, they also provided nonstop coverage of the incident, including Internet videos of the brawl, blogs, and endless hours of talk radio discussion. Everybody got some of the blame: the fighting players themselves, the coaches (who didn’t take their starters out of the game near the end when the game was essentially over), the referees (who failed to take steps to reduce mounting tempers), Xavier student fans (whose relentless taunting of the UC bench and coaches contributed to the scene), excessive pre-game hype from the media, and the university’s sports programs themselves. Some observed that incidents like this don’t happen at Harvard vs. Princeton games. Players’ reputations and even their potential professional prospects were damaged, as were images of the two universities and their athletic programs. Some have proposed that the game be cancelled in the future. Questions were raised whether UC and Xavier were recruiting athletes who met their schools’s standards, whether the intensity of inter-collegiate athletics has exceeded all reasonable bounds, and whether glorification of power, violence, and hyper-masculinity necessarily results in destructive consequences. On the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away with moralizing. Some fans noted that it’s not that unusual for team sports events to erupt in fighting. Maybe if Gates’s punch hadn’t bloodied Frease’s cheek and it hadn’t been captured on color TV screens, the whole event would have faded away by now. I do think that the statements and actions by the respective universities were appropriate, that the offending players need to take their medicine, and that various parties should examine what sort of adjustments can minimize a recurrence of the happening. Then it’s time to move on. I guess I’ll still cheer for the UC Bearcats.
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer (multiple stories at www.news.cincinnati.com, Dec. 10-12, 2011)
-Phyllis S-S (12-13): Dave, Wow - you make it come alive. I'm glad I wasn't there though. I hate seeing that stuff…. Phyllis