Friday, June 10, 2005

Fish-bowl effect affects Jayhawks


While at Virginia Tech, Kansas University women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson received a fresh reminder in the mail of just how public a life high-profile student-athletes have.

One of her players, while leaving a shopping mall, threw a piece of trash out of her car window before zooming off.

"I got two letters about it," Henrickson said. "The players were stunned. But we talk long and hard about it: We live in a fish bowl."

The KU athletic department knows all too well about the fish-bowl effect now, after men's basketball player J.R. Giddens was involved in a bloody altercation outside the Moon Bar.

Giddens and four others were stabbed in an after-hours fight and, to this point, varying reports have surfaced regarding Giddens' role, leading to intense speculation around water coolers and on Internet message boards throughout KU nation.

No arrests have been made yet, and until a police report is released, KU coach Bill Self and athletic director Lew Perkins won't comment specifically on the incident, other than to assure that appropriate action will be taken when the time is right.

But the incident is sure to raise red flags for many coaches across the athletic department in the coming months.

When it's time for teams to gather again in August, nightlife will be addressed with a little extra emphasis.

"Every coach in this department has had a conversation and a dialogue with all our student-athletes about being responsible," Henrickson said. "We'll have this incident to make reference to, certainly. But if it hadn't happened, we'd still have other incidents to point at."

Henrickson meets with her players every year to discuss the fish bowl that student-athletes in college towns like Lawrence live in. When your game is discussed on the radio and actions are recorded on television, you're no longer just another member of the community.

"You lose your anonymity," Henrickson said. "If one of you does something, it's not just you. It's women's basketball."

Henrickson gave no specific plans for any policy alterations in light of the Giddens incident for her program, such as new rules regarding nightlife. Women's basketball players, even before Henrickson's arrival a year ago, haven't been in any off-court trouble recently.

Then again, neither had men's basketball players -- another reason why such values need to be preached even if student-athletes appear to be practicing it.

"It's a tremendous privilege," Henrickson said. "But with that privilege comes responsibility."


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