Bob Huggins' slurs cut deep amid tense time for LGBTQ community. And he's reportedly paying a hefty price for it
There are so many other words that could have been used. The English language has no shortage of ways to poke fun at a person or people you don't like, as West Virginia men's basketball coach Bob Huggins was apparently trying to do in a recent Cincinnati radio interview when asked about his onetime rival, Xavier.
And Huggins chose a gay slur. Twice, just to bring his point home.
That came after the show's co-host, Bill Cunningham, vomited forth his own transphobic quip about fans at Xavier earlier this week. Cunningham and his co-host had a laugh after Huggins' anti-gay statement, and then said of Huggins, "Is he the best?" "He's the best." "He's the best ever."
Yes, mocking and denigrating marginalized people is just the best. Really, is there anything better?
What Huggins said was vile. He deserves a modicum, a teeny tiny bit, of credit because his apology statement issued through West Virginia University actually read like he was remorseful, saying, "I deeply apologize to the individuals I have offended," instead of using the trite and useless "if I offended anyone" language used so often by those who don't really care and aren't truly sorry.
That doesn't excuse it in the least. The university and Huggins agreed on a $1 million annual salary reduction as part of a punishment, according to an ESPN report.
We are rapidly returning to a time it seemed we had left behind, with LGBTQ people being pushed back into the shadows, and in some cases seeing attempts at legislating them out of existence. That includes using terrible language like "groomers" and stifling efforts of inclusion.
Not surprisingly for a generation raised on social media, these efforts at exclusion and demonization are getting through to young people, with devastating effect. The Trevor Project, a group dedicated to ending LGBTQ youth suicide in the United States and Mexico, published its annual survey of LGBTQ youth earlier this month. Of the over 28,000 respondents, nearly two-thirds reported that hearing about potential state or local laws banning the discussion of LGBTQ people made their mental health "a lot worse." Nearly a third said their mental health was poor "most of the time or always" due to "anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation." And 41% reported seriously contemplating suicide over the previous year, with that number higher for transgender, non-binary and/or non-white youths who took part in the survey.
Being LGBQT and being inundated with stories and videos of someone like you being harassed — or worse — for existing as their authentic self, can have a damaging effect on mental health and well-being for adults, let alone a 16-year-old. Being a teenager or young adult is hard enough even under the best of circumstances. You can start to question if something is wrong with you, if your parents might be better off without having to fight state legislatures just for you to play high school softball, if it would be easier for everyone if you were gone.
Huggins probably didn't consider any of those things while making remarks akin to a narrow-minded dinosaur. He has spent his entire adult life earning money off the backs of talented young men who largely weren't monetarily compensated for their work, many of them Black and almost certainly a few of them gay given he has been coaching over 45 years in his Hall of Fame career. Before the reported salary reduction, he was paid over $4 million per year, making him the highest paid state employee in West Virginia, where the minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.
Of all the words Bob Huggins could have used to poke fun at Xavier fans, he chose one of the absolute worst, turning his aim not just at the college he once squared off against when he was coaching at the University of Cincinnati. Instead, he targeted a community that is already being flooded with a mind-boggling amount of hate in recent months.
He turned a goofy local interview into a national story. We've all heard what he said. Worse, LGBTQ students and staff at the university where he works likely have too.