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Dan Dakich is a classic bully relying on lazy arguments. Why does ESPN put up with it?

For The Win logo For The Win 3/1/2021 Chris Korman
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There’s a good chance that unless you are a big college basketball fan, live in Indianapolis or happen to have a deep affinity for mildly successful MAC hoops coaches of the late 1990s and early 2000s, you’d never heard of, much less thought about, Dan Dakich.

The truth is, you’re better off that way. What I’m about to do is give Dakich the oxygen he wants. But in this case, it feels important because, while ESPN has said it is investigating his latest vile comments, these are not his first vile comments and he has retained his radio platform and remained employed as an analyst on college games.

This is a network that could not find a way to successfully host the ideas of Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. That lost Dan Le Batard’s brilliance by trying to dim it. That kept Bomani Jones in his tidy corner for too long when he’s arguably the most interesting thinker in sports media today. This is a bigger issue than just Dan Dakich, who nobody should be paying all that much attention to anyway.

To be clear, Dakich’s offenses generally take place on his Indy-based radio show — the station is an ESPN affiliate owned by Emmis Communications — or on his Twitter account. A different, more respectable Dan Dakich shows up on air to discuss the game of basketball. That’s the person I knew, ever so briefly, when he coached the Indiana basketball team in the latter part of the 2008 season after Kelvin Sampson had been bought out of his contract for violating NCAA rules.

The unfiltered Dakich you hear now is simply a bully trying to stay relevant. He never had a shot to get the full-time job at Indiana and never coached another college game. The idea that he’d be good on TV or radio back then was widely held; Dakich had a straightforwardness that resonated with listeners, especially in the place where he’d played and then worked for Bob Knight.

Early on, Dakich gave me reason to hope that he would rise to the job, too. I praised him in late 2008, when he defended the Black players he’d coached the season before from the predictable attacks from white former players who blamed them for ruining the program:

To recap briefly: former Indiana player Joe Hillman was quoted in The Indianapolis Star calling some of last year’s players “punks” and “bad guys.”

Dakich fired back, calling Hillman’s comments “reprehensible” and pointing out that two of the former players who’d been quoted in the article had been arrested for public stupidity during their years at IU, while only one player (DeAndre Thomas) was arrested last season and that was for driving with a suspended license.

Dakich is known for great lines, and he didn’t disappoint during his rant as he talked about the differences in Joe’s home life as a kid and that of Jamarcus Ellis:

“While Joe Hillman was playing golf at a country club, Jamarcus Ellis was living in a car.”

Perhaps Dakich still harbored thoughts of coaching at that point, and knew he needed to pretend that he understood his Black players in case he needed to go on the road recruiting again. Or maybe he really believed that nuanced, heartfelt take. At this point, it’s so hard to say because Dakich, all these years later, simply says whatever he thinks will stir up the most people. He has no code. He only wants attention.

He’s resorted to saying the following in recent years to try to get it:

Called a high school basketball player a “meth head,” told his listeners to “take a dump” in Scottsburg, In., and said the town was full of “meth and AIDS and needles.” He also said he “may just drive down there and beat the hell out of every school board member.” His most recent spat, which you can read about in its entirety at Awful Announcing, involved him fighting primarily with two professors, Nathan Kalman-Lamb and Johanna Mellis, who also host the End of Sport podcast. When he chided them for not being “in the arena,” Dr. Mellis pointed out that she’d been a Division I swimmer and challenged Dakich to “go at it in the pool” — as in a race. Dakich discussed this on his show, insinuating that going at it in the pool would mean having sex in a public place. There’s a litany of other offensive, dumb things Dakich has said in this Marc Isenberg thread, too, including these two:

Dakich fancies himself as particularly tough and fearless, but he uses those descriptors to open space for himself to say increasingly inflammatory things. It’s not a new playbook, and he doesn’t even run it all that well, but it works.

It’s just a shame that Dakich could never find the resolve to actually put in the work to come up with interesting things to talk about. He’s still just an echo of Knight, the coach who finally went too far and spent his final years in relative exile. The plan: Speak loudly and pretend that knowing a fair bit about basketball means you know something about everything. Some coaches never realize that the world is not their team; the rest of us aren’t under any obligation to obey or even listen.

The worst slur you could ever call Dakich is “soft,” but he’s proven over and over that he’s as rugged as melted marshmallow when it comes to his current job. His discussion with Mellis and Kalman-Lamb made it clear that he earnestly believes that he has important things to say simply because he once played college basketball and later went 89-89 in league play as the coach at Bowling Green. He seriously thinks that a basketball coach with 13 players on his team is doing more to help students graduate than the professors who carry out the actual work of the university.

Dakich can be a sharp thinker with unique insights, but only when he bothers to learn about what he’s discussing. He almost never does, opting instead for the easy way out. That’s who he is, and anybody who dares challenge him is a “pansy” who doesn’t know how to “sack up.”

The larger issue here is that this still passes for sports talk radio in 2021, and it shouldn’t. Sports gives us plenty of grist without using them to appeal to regressive, racist and sexist notions.

ESPN capitulated to those who claimed it had gotten too woke, but now it is just sitting there slumbering while Dakich reads from a script that was worn thin back in the early 1980s when he got it.

Dakich’s barbs are so often aimed at athletes who don’t reach his definition of toughness, and that’s why this can’t stand: The network’s popularity is fueled by those players. It owes them something more — something better — than letting the Dan Dakich’s of the world own the discussion.

Tom Izzo blasts Dan Dakich's 'unprofessional' and 'ridiculous' tweets in postgame rant

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