Legendary College Basketball Coaches Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun Call For Gun Control After Newtown Massacre

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim

The sports world has been filled with tributes to the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre, in which 27 people, including 20 children, were shot and killed. But while many athletes have chosen to honor the victims on their shoes and leagues have held moments of silence before games, two legendary men’s college basketball coaches took the opportunity to speak out about gun control.

Nobody would have faulted Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for turning his post-game press conference into a celebration Monday, after he became just the third men’s Division I coach to win 900 games in a career. Instead, he chose to take on a topic that he knew would “offend some people” and called for tough restrictions on assault weapons:

“This will probably offend some people. If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. I’m a hunter. I’ve hunted. I’m not talking about rifles. That’s fine. If one person in this world — the NRA president, anybody — can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing. This is our fault. This is my fault and your fault. All of your faults if we don’t get out and do something about this.”

“If we can’t get this thing done — I’m with the mayor of New York City [Michael Bloomberg] — if we can’t get this thing done, I don’t know what kind of country we have. This is about us. This isn’t about the president or those other people down there [in DC]. We have to make them understand somehow that this needs to get figured out. Real quick. Not six months from now.”

Tuesday, Boeheim was echoed by Jim Calhoun, the retired University of Connecticut head coach who won three national championships and still lives in Storrs, just 70 miles from the Newtown school where the massacre took place:

“I don’t think there’s any politics about gun control,” the former UConn coach said. “In my opinion, nobody should have an automatic weapon unless they’re…protecting the country. The idea that children would be faced with that, or teachers that were trying to help them…there are other things in my lifetime that I can explain — a distraught kid, a fired employee. But this is so nonsensical.

We’re not asking to take away people’s rights. The right to bear arms was put in there for tyranny, the fact that the government could come back and abuse us…As a former American history teacher, I can tell you it wasn’t put in for us to shoot each other.”

Boeheim and Calhoun have always been known as frank, outspoken coaches, but they’ve been joined by coaches who don’t all come with that brand. Villanova’s Jay Wright spoke out against assault weapons on Twitter, and Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey delivered a heartfelt post-game speech after his team’s loss to Ohio State on Tuesday, saying now was “a time for change,” though he wasn’t sure if it was a “gun issue,” a “mental illness issue,” or something else.

But the prevalence of assault weapons shouldn’t be the only focus of coaches in college basketball and football. Not given the deep-seeded relationship between guns and athletes. “The sports world is filled with athletes at every level of competition who have been wounded, killed, lost loved ones, or otherwise been victimized by guns – or who have had their lives changed forever by turning to guns themselves,” the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence wrote in a report on guns in sports. “Entire rosters could be filled with star players who have been adversely affected by guns in some way.”

If coaches want to be real “agents of change,” as Kelsey said he would be, they won’t just speak out against gun violence when it is in the news or when the cameras are on them (though they are of course welcome to). They should also embrace their role as educators and role models for the 18- to 22-year-old young men they coach every day, and educate them of the dangers firearms pose not just to themselves but to their families and friends, and push them to avoid the trappings of the gun culture that is so prevalent in sports at the collegiate and especially the professional level, where many of their players hope to be one day. And perhaps they can take a page from Charlie Strong, the University of Louisville football coach who has not spoken out about the Newtown tragedy but has a “NO GUNS” policy for members of his team and preaches the policy as a core value of his program.

It’s great that coaches want to speak out on important issues. Here’s hoping they also take action on those issues in the areas where they can.


University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino joined Boeheim and Calhoun in calling for gun control at his press conference today. Asked what he thought of Boeheim’s comments, Pitino called for “immediate gun control” and rebuked the National Rifle Association:

PITINO: The fact that every single person would not want it (gun control) would be a mystery. This is not the beginning of American civilization where we need guns ’cause it’s the wild, wild west. We’re not talking about a hunting license. There should not be guns in our society. We all know that. […] There can be no good that comes out of that (Sandy Hook) except immediate gun control. There can be no good. ‘Cause all of us who are not even related to those children shed a tear even thinking about it.

On the NRA, Pitino added, “I don’t care about those people. Those people have their own agendas. They’ll give you the excuses that this is just an insane person. That’s not the way it is. We don’t need guns in our society. Bob Costas took a lot of heat for what he said. What was he caring about? People not getting killed.

“No one’s going to take away your hunting license. This is not Wyatt Earp going down the street.”

Watch it, via the Louisville Courier-Journal:

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