I fully appreciate the different responses that I received on my Facebook post about Michigan Basketball Coach Juwan Howard and the post-game ruckus that ensued with Wisconsin Coach Greg Gard and an assistant coach yesterday afternoon. I, too, wish that Gard had not grabbed Howard by the arm, and I, too, wish that Howard had been able to head on to the locker room with his players without being "forced" to chat about what had transpired at the end of the game.
But such was not the case...
I received a few personal messages from folks wondering why I supported Coach Howard's reactions, which I address in better detail here than in my original post. The simple fact is that I do not believe that any man has a right to physically or verbally assault another man. I also believe that when a man chooses to physically or verbally assault another man, then that man best be fully prepared to receive violence in return—period!
My perspective on this goes way back to second grade when I got off the school bus one afternoon from Apple Grove Elementary School in Oxon Hill, Maryland and to my surprise, my father was already at home sitting in the kitchen next to my mother with his right hand in a big bowl of ice. What I soon learned is that earlier that day, dad, an active duty Army Lt. Colonel (LTC) at the time, had been waiting to brief a General at the MILPERSEN complex near Washington D.C. While leaning on the edge of a desk in the secretarial area outside of the general's office, another LTC, who was white, walked by and said "you need to get off that damn desk and sit in a seat until you are summoned." Dad, a man who was far less talkative than I am, told his fellow colonel "and you need to mind your damned business." Unhappy with dad's response, the white colonel then pushed dad off of the desk; Dad got up off of the floor and in one swift swoop, executed a punch to the other colonel's face, breaking his nose and splitting his upper lip with a one hitter quitter—thus the ice on the hand.
As I sat at the table eating my after school snack, my mother then asked, “well Charles, do you regret what happened and how it could impact your career?” Dad's cold as ice reply? “I regret that I didn’t kill him…”
Now, I didn't learn the pedantic details of this event until many years later when Colonel Wilson Barnes, an Army buddy of dad's and a mentor of mine, broke it down following an NAACP meeting. Col. Barnes said that the white colonel was a known racist and bully, but that “all that bullying stopped when ol’ Charlie Hobbs knocked him out.”
Now, when I asked dad about what happened a few years before he died, he actually did express some regret, saying that defending himself that day prevented him from becoming a general officer. But he quickly added, “son, I didn't fight in those jungles in Vietnam to let some racist here at home threaten or put his hands on me."
Fast forward to 2003, and on a sunny May day, I was leaving the Leon County Courthouse following a hearing on a gambling case involving former Florida State University quarterback Adrian McPherson, one that was receiving almost 'round the clock coverage on ESPN, CNN, and the local news.
There was speculation at the time that if convicted, and if proven that McPherson had gambled on FSU games, that the school could face crippling NCAA sanctions; suffice it to say that many in Tallahassee were on edge.
As I exited the courthouse that May day to walk to the car with lead counsel, Grady Irvin, an older Black mentor, along with my old Morehouse College roommate, attorney Richard Keith Alan, a very disheveled looking white male tried to block our path. Being polite, I said "excuse me, friend," to which the guy stared and replied "I ain’t your friend, you f*cking n*gger. That was the first (and only) time that I had been called that to my face and, seeing how this racist refused to move, I moved him by delivering a right fist to his left jaw. The force of the blow knocked him backwards at least five feet to the street curb, where I swiftly delivered several solid kicks to his torso before getting pulled away by my co-counsels, another lawyer friend, and a bailiff who was out back and watched the whole incident go down.
My Dad was 39 when his incident occurred; I was 33. Now, could we have chosen passivity in the face of hostile aggression? Sure, we could have, but we didn't because at the end of the day, my dad grew up during the Jim Crow era when strong Black men like his own father, Robert Hobbs, and my sharecropping maternal grandfather and uncle, Charlie and Charlie Ed Williams, were forced by custom to be docile or meek even in the face of white male aggression. Those lessons that my parents passed down from first hand Jim Crow experiences were not just facts for me to repeat on a test or at a quiz bowl tournament, but a blueprint for a lifetime of protecting myself, my family, or my friends from physical aggression from hostile males of any color, but especially racists.
Which I find curious in that reading many of the comments from yesterday's incident, some (not all) of the main folks talking the most harshly about Howard's “violent” response are among those who supported Kyle Rittenhouse's "self-defense" claim in Wisconsin, or those who call the violent January 6th MAGA Riots a "legitimate public discourse." While some others who are criticizing Howard may be more liberal in their politics, they, too, prefer docility and meekness from certain men (Coach Howard), while refusing to hold others to the same meekness (Coach Gard).I'm gonna need every hypocrite that supported Kyle Rittenhouse's “self defense,” or the violent January 6th riot to shut up about Juwan Howard…
And while Black minds can hold different opinions about whether Howard should have refrained from acting, I do not quite understand it when I read Black voices that pillory Howard without putting Gard up on the pillory post, first and foremost, for thinking he had some God given right to snatch Howard by the arm and force him to talk?
To conclude, after watching the tape multiple times, I figure that Howard will get suspended or fired, especially with headlines focusing more on his slap than the actions of the instigator, Gard. I have no problem with a suspension because I get it, neither coaches nor players should scrap. But a long suspension or a firing would be regrettable because Howard was a high honors student at Michigan, a legendary collegiate and NBA player, and from friends of mine who are real life friends of his, a kind and caring man who is a role model for his student-athletes.
But for those who automatically concluded that “Howard is hostile" without stopping to realize what has triggered his hostilities in situations with Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon, and now Coach Gard, I am reminded of something else my friend Richard Alan said to me years ago when he was a first year law associate and I was finishing my last year of law school at UF.
Rich relayed that after an angry white male opposing counsel threw a file and started talking crazy to him one day in court, that when his 6'1 245 lb. pound former football playing self asked counsel if he wanted to step his former Dungeons & Dragons board game playing self outside to get whatever he was feeling off his chest, that the angry white guy who had been all buck a few minutes earlier then started hiding behind the bailiffs and playing the victim card. A fact that prompted Rich to call me in Gainesville and tell me that summer of '97 "Hobbs, when these dudes start acting out of pocket and talking tough and whatnot in court, ignore them because trust, they aren't going to want to go outside and handle it like we handle it..."
Indeed, and such is my regret that Howard was not able to summon a strength that I still don’t quite fully possess, either, which is to walk away after some loud and aggressive racist assaults, curses, or threatens.
To conclude, this event is but one more example of how aggression is praised as “being tough” when white males are the aggressors—but deemed a problem when Black males return the same energy.
Lest we forget…
Thank you and please subscribe to the Hobbservation Point—have a wonderful Monday!
Chuck Hobbs is a freelance journalist who won the 2010 Florida Bar Media Award and has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.