Joel Pett: Hoops outrage rules

life-and-death issues generate threats in other countries

Herald-Leader CartoonistMay 13, 2012 

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Last Monday, I went to a board meeting of the Cartoonists Rights Network in Washington, D.C. As I've written here before, CRN helps cartoonists in trouble in parts of the world where the art form is, shall we say, frowned on by authoritarian regimes, police states and various mobs.

Part of our agenda was to select the winner of the annual Courage in Cartooning Award, given to a cartoonist who showed particular bravery standing up to threats.

Sadly, there were many qualified candidates last year, perhaps the most notable being Ali Ferzat of Syria, who was beaten and had his fingers broken by thugs from the Assad regime.

The French satirical newspaper Hebdo was bombed over cartoons. Slovakian cartoonist Martin Sutovek was sued by Prime Minister Robert Fico for cartoons suggesting he lacked backbone. These are all-too-common stories, with variations repeated in India, Bahrain, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

As with the infamous fatwah declared against the Danish cartoonists a couple of years back for drawing Mohammed, there are often undercurrents of tribalism or religious fanatacism in play, which brings us to University of Kentucky basketball.

I got off the plane Tuesday afternoon and have spent nearly every waking hour since dealing with angry hoop fans, displeased, to put it mildly, at the way I lampooned UK Coach John Calipari after he refused to play Indiana in Bloomington again.

A dozen or so have canceled their papers. Many dozens have sent me e-mails, most of them unprintable, some containing veiled threats. A handful called my home, one at 2 a.m., claiming to be outside. A UK fan posted my home address on the Internet and suggested it as a target for vandalism. A couple of correspondents lectured me that IU students treated Calipari and the Cats rudely in Bloomington during last season's thriller. Imagine that.

Now, I went to IU, have pretty much split my life between Bloomington and Lexington, have loved both playing and watching basketball for decades and remain incensed that the series is waylaid.

I was dismayed 20 years ago when it was moved to Indianapolis and Louisville, in pursuit of ever more big money. I couldn't care less about their bottom lines, or that playing in huge arenas prepares the one-and-dones (one-and-domes?) for Final Fours.

A quaint notion, maybe, but I like college games to be played in the college towns.

For all the demands that I apologize, what I really regret is that of all the subjects we cover — in news, editorials and cartoons — UK basketball is the only one, with the possible exception of the you're-with-us-or-the-terrorists Iraq war, that has inspired this level of genuine outrage and passion.

Now that's just sorry.

Reach Joel Pett at jpett@herald-leader.com or 231-3443.

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