By Etan Thomas
It was the slap heard around the world.
Juwan Howard was involved in a verbal altercation with Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard following the Badgers’ 77-63 win over the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday.
From the video, it appeared as though Howard was grabbed and stopped by Coach Gard as he attempted to walk by him in the handshake line, which set off a series of events — including Howard slapping Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft.
Some context with Juwan Howard and Joe Krabbenhoft pic.twitter.com/lHNeJOklCQ
— ᗩᑎT ᗯᖇIGᕼT (@itsAntWright) February 21, 2022
There have been a lot of questions and speculation as to what Krabbenhoft said to provoke Howard that has not been confirmed as of yet.
But looking at the slow motion video, you can clearly see that Krabbenholft did in fact push two Michigan players — sophomore Terrance Williams II and senior forward Jaron Faulds. Not excusing his slap, but it appears as though Juwan was coming to his players’ defense.
However, Monday night, the verdict was handed out. Howard will be suspended for the remainder of Michigan’s regular season (which equates to five games) and was fined $40,000. Conversely, none of the Wisconsin coaches have been suspended and Coach Gard was only fined $10,000.
Coach Howard issued this statement:
After taking time to reflect on all that happened, I realize how unacceptable both my actions and words were and how they affected so many. I am truly sorry. I am offering my sincerest apologies to my players and their families, my staff, my family and the Michigan fans around the world. I would like to personally apologize to Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft and his family too. Lastly, I speak a lot about being a Michigan man and representing the University of Michigan with class and pride. I did not do that, nor did I set the right example in the right way for my student athletes. I will learn from my mistake, and this mistake will never happen again. No excuses!
Juwan Howard accepted the punishment, took full responsibility for his actions, made no excuses and apologized to everyone who was involved.
I caught up with his former Fab Five teammate Ray Jackson to discuss the incident, the callings for him to be fired, the punishment handed out and the public backlash by Dick Vitale and others, as well as who Juwan Howard is as a coach and a person.
Etan: What were your thoughts after seeing what took place after the Michigan/Wisconsin game? I saw your Facebook post saying you definitely supported your former Fab Five teammate, but what was your reaction to seeing so many people calling for Juwan to be fired immediately?
Ray Jackson: “People calling for him to be immediately fired definitely wasn’t surprising. I always felt that they never loved us and we had no room for error. But, they never look at what’s prompting us. There has always been something attached with the presence of the Fab Five and what Juwan Howard brings, what he stands for, what he represents, his knowledge, his experience, and they’ve let that boil over way past common respect. To be honest, the entire way they approach the game is different when they coach against Juwan.
“I’m not saying Juwan’s reaction was right, let me be clear, but the other coach (Greg Gard) should have never put his hands on him in the first place; he should’ve never grabbed him or stopped him. He should’ve walked past him, gave him the brush by, said he’s gonna remember that and kept it moving. They are going to suspend Juwan, but Coach Gard definitely needs to be held accountable for his role in this too.”
Etan: So, let’s talk about this for a minute, because I agree. there is no reason for a coach to grab another coach like he’s a child. Like you said, he grabbed him and stopped him. Juwan was walking past him. He initiated everything.
Jackson: “But here is the issue, E — a big Black man putting his hands on a white man in America is one of the scariest things white America can see. And it’s always been like that. So, no matter what they do to us, how wrong they are in whatever they do, we can not be aggressive back as a response. They want us to always remain passive. No matter what. When I saw how he grabbed Juwan, the first thing I thought was, ‘I wonder how many of his players he grabs like that regularly? Is there a reason why Wisconsin only gets a certain kind of Black players? But Juwan is not a boy, he’s a full grown man, and you can’t approach a man like a boy period.”
Etan: And then, the assistant coach (Joe Krabbenhoft) came over, and it didn’t look like he was trying to de-escalate anything. I would’ve thought the assistant coach would’ve come over and been more concerned with pulling his players back, but it looked like — at least from the angles of the video — not only was he talking smack to Juwan, but he actually put his hands on some Michigan players.
Jackson: “You are absolutely correct in your assessment. You saw what I saw, E. And I’m going to keep saying it: Juwan has these white coaches feeling a certain type of way about him. He was one of the only Black coaches for awhile; he came in getting recruits, all of the praise, all of this notoriety. They didn’t feel he was qualified for the position in the first place. Remember, a few media people simply echoed publicly what many of the actual coaches were saying privately and amongst themselves. So that all was a problem for him.
“Yes, he’s put five guys in the NBA. But more than that, he has developed a culture where he cares about the players beyond what they can do on the court, so they have a different level of respect for him. Not to mention all he has done for the program as a whole. So no, one situation or reaction, I’ll say, from Juwan doesn’t put a black eye on the totality of Juwan Howard, nor should it.”
Etan: Glad you brought up the black eye, because it’s interesting how this keeps coming back up. I interviewed all of you for my book, “We Matter: ‘Athletes And Activism.’”
You all talked about how much the media was always coming down on y’all. Saying that you all were putting a “black eye” on the University of Michigan as a whole, on the alumni, on the entire NCAA; that expressed sentiment kept coming up in all of your interviews. So I know how much that bothers y’all. And now, I’m hearing that kind of talk again after this situation, so i’m thinking… there was this doctor at Michigan who was charged with sexually abusing students.
Jackson: “You’re talking about Dr. [Robert E.] Anderson.”
Etan: Yes, and Michigan had a $490 million settlement for thousands of student-athlete victims that were abused — not allegedly abused, but actually abused — by this cat who was the athletic team doctor for decades, between the years of 1966 and 2003. And they hardly talked about that. So that’s not a “black eye” to the university, but y’all wearing baggy shorts and black socks was a “black eye?” This situation with Juwan coming to the defense of his players, of being accosted by this coach — this is a “black eye?”
Jackson: “I see you’re going there today. But you’re absolutely right again. They hardly talked about that. They paid the lawsuit and swept it all under the rug and just didn’t really talk about it. There was one little series that came on TV, but that was really it. And for it to be as egregious of a crime as it was? Yeah, I can’t disagree with anything you said. No Michigan student, nobody’s child should’ve ever been exposed to a clown like that. He preyed on children. That whole situation was just disgusting.
“But yeah, that seed of resentment toward us, that seed was planted when we were 17, 18-year-old kids at Michigan. So they always couldn’t wait for us to do something wrong so they could pounce on us. We weren’t allowed [to make] mistakes, we had to be perfect. Juwan should’ve never been put in that position to have to control his emotions. A coach grabbing you? Pushing your players? That just doesn’t happen, and they can’t pretend that that’s normal activity.”
Etan: You know it’s interesting, a few people on Twitter — and I suspect they were Michigan State fans — but they tweeted me an old article I wrote back in 2019 about Tom Izzo abusing and bullying a player on his team, Aaron Henry. And they were saying mockingly, “If Tom Izzo is a bully and a coward, what does that make Juwan Howard?” And saying, “Are you going to publicly condemn Juwan’s actions?” Etc.
Jackson: “I remember that article, and yeah they were pissed when you wrote that, but those are two completely different situations. One is with a coach in a power dynamic over a teenage college player, and the other is man-to-man. You can’t even compare the two. Besides you writing that article, I don’t think Izzo received an enormous amount of criticism after that happened. But this is what it boils down to: They’re okay with old, white men doing exactly what Izzo did to Aaron Henry. They can verbally abuse, mishandle our babies [and] chastise our young men or young women.”
Etan: They were definitely okay with Bobby Knight’s abuse for years.
Jackson: “Right! But that image of a Black man doing anything aggressive toward a white man, that’s why you see the reactions that we were seeing to immediately fire Juwan. I even saw some on social media say arrest him. Then use language like, ‘He physically assaulted him,’ or ‘attacked’ him. First of all, if Juwan wanted to, he could’ve laid Coach Gard and Krabbenhoft completely out. He opened his hand, so let’s not put too much on this. He slapped him. Not saying it was right, but that’s what he did.”
Etan: And, I didn’t want to say anything about Dick Vitale — and everyone has been praying for him with his battle with cancer, and his emotional videos so we’re all pulling for him — but his immediate tweets were so targeted and his language was so menacing. I was like, “Is he tweeting this from the hospital bed?” I just commented on one of his posts that I was keeping him in my prayers a week or so ago as he was showing himself going into surgery. I don’t know, I was just shocked seeing his tweets.
It’s sad thinking about what I watched in that handshake line as the coach of a gr8 Univ. ala UM could not control his temper & nearly set off a full blown riot. INEXCUSABLE behavior by Juwan Howard MUST LEAD TO SEVERE PUNISHMENT. UM President & AD should take ACTION NOW!
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 20, 2022
Then, after Juwan did his initial address to the media explaining what happened and why he was upset, Vitale followed up with another tweet.
Pls Juwan defend yourself from a guy half your size who wanted to explain y he called an ABSURD T/O. with 15 sec. Say what u want but be a REAL MAN & admit ur action representing one of the great State Universities was INEXCUSABLE .
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 20, 2022
And I was just like “Whoa, be a real man?” Juwan Howard’s actions must lead to severe punishment? Mocking him saying he was defending himself? Why all that, and from the hospital bed, Dickie V?
Jackson: “Well, going back to our college days, Dickie V and Bill Walton were two of the first ones to call us all thugs. All of us. Me, Jimmy [King], Juwan, Chris [Webber], Jalen [Rose]. They labeled all of us. Our mothers and fathers and grandparents and family had to hear that. We were thugs? Because we had a different style and swag with us? So that came as no surprise to hear him say that now. And I haven’t heard anyone call him out on it and don’t expect to. So thank you for saying something.
“But Juwan owned up to everything — apologized for his reaction, took all responsibility — but none of the other parties involved, who caused the chain of events to take place, were held accountable? Why was Juwan the only one who got suspended? Gard’s little $10K fine isn’t a punishment. Why didn’t they suspend the other coaches like you suspended Juwan, especially when he was coming to the defense of his players? Gard and Krabbenhoft didn’t even apologize like Juwan did. People wanna talk about being men and owning up to what you did, but that only pertains to one side?
Etan: That’s ridiculous, and people are still saying Juwan got off light and should’ve been fired.
Jackson: “I see it too. I was reading a few articles this morning, and yeah, that’s just absurd. That’s why I appreciate what you do. There are so many folks still calling for Juwan to be fired, and to be honest, I was worried. I spoke to C-Webb the night it happened and he was worried too, because we know they’re waiting for any reason to throw the book at Juwan, and we know why. But hopefully, everyone can put this story and this issue behind them and we can move on, and Juwan can get back to continuing to do an amazing job as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. But he shouldn’t have been the only party held accountable for what took place.”
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