Friday, March 12, 2004

Oh Those Forgiving Zips

"It is enough for our purposes to say that what a word means is the missing parts of the contexts from which it draws its delegated efficacy" (Richards 35).

I promise this won't become a basketball driveller's weblog.  But it's tournament time; the television's noise is turning a beat in my head, and it won't quiet until I attempt this entry.  I saw Keith Dambrot's name scroll on the ticker Wednesday night, and I had to take it up.  Why should Keith Dambrot matter to me?  I hadn't had a thought about him in years.  He was in his first year as the hoops coach at Central Michigan U. when I was a freshman in 1992.  I tried out as walk-on.  Didn't make the cut.  Actually, nobody did.  He didn't take one player from the tryout to add depth to his short bench that season. Just as well.

After two seasons, Dambrot was dumped (following protests) for tossing around "motivational" racial epithets during a halftime rant at Miami (Ohio), in the midst of a game when the Chippewas' former coach, Charlie Coles and his team were putting a whoopin' on CMU (a provocative entry on language control at Critical Mass).  Who knows exactly how the talk came together in the locker room that night? According to what reports came of it, none of the players objected. Of course, in such power-loaded arrangements, open democratic discourse doesn't always surface.  The awful terms of Dambrot's speech were leaked to the media and declared an event, a happening. The eventual ruling--Dambrot's ill-advised choice of words could cost him his job--rumbled through the academy as if on tsunami of free speech defense, countered by an undertow of good sense (sure, there's a lot more to it).  Here I don't want to dodge the wave or diminish the exigency of free speech in the academy and beyond.  But I do find it incredibly difficult to put faith in Dambrot's judgment, sensitivity, wherewithal, and suitability to return to such prominent coaching ranks.  In short, I wouldn't want my son to play for him, and I guess that's the measure of my concern at this news. And it's why I was surprised to see that he was promoted to head coach at the University of Akron after one season--a mediocre season at that--with the Zips.  It's got me wondering about how he recovered esteemed standing and privileged rank.  I know he was incredibly successful as a coach at Ashland before heading to Mt. Pleasant and CMU, and I know his most recent stint was as an assistant for the high school program from which LeBron James turned to the NBA last year.  Others from that high school team are freshmen at Akron this season.

I suppose it's worth noting that I've been thinking about Dambrot's recovery from an egregious linguistic past while reading the middle chapters in I.A Richards' The Philosophy of Rhetoric.  It's the source of the line I dropped to lead this thing off.  Richards is concerned, in places, with what he calls Usage Doctrine.  About Usage Doctrine, he says this: "It can say and truly, for example, that we learn how to use words from responding to them and noting how other people use them" (54).  From here, Richards sifts some important distinctions.  One problem of acute conformity (narrow delineations of meaning) is "that it takes the senses of an author's words to be things we know before we read him, fixed factors with which he has to build up the meaning of his sentences as a mosaic is put together of discrete independent tesserae.  Instead, [the senses] are resultants which we arrive at only through the interplay of the interpretive possibilities of the whole utterance" (55).  This is challenging because, in one sense, we don't know Dambrot's "whole utterance."  But it also applies to the sprawling significations of the utterance we do know, its exhausting range of meanings and usages which expose roots in hatred and inhumanity. More from Richards (on interanimation and sentence context, but I'm adapting it another way for the heckuvit): "But in most prose, and more than we ordinarily suppose, the opening words have to wait for those that follow to settle what they shall mean--if indeed that ever gets settled."  I can't think of anything profound to write, but I have this: Meaning is conditioned by time and place.  Semiotics and rhetorics bear, among many qualities, spatiality and temporality.  And this, as I see it, undergirds Dambrot's hirability at Akron.  He has a great local reputation in northeastern Ohio where his rhetorical legacy in mid-Michigan has been--in these ten years since--overhauled by a surprisingly powerful ethos, made over by social/regional heroism, a winning record in well-liked programs (this season at Akron excluded), and access to elite recruiting channels.  And it is possible that he has done a whole lot more to transform his serious flub into a forgivable mistake.  I don't know much about that, which is why the ticker-tape gave me pause.  And which is why I'll watch with curiosity what develops in Akron, Ohio in the years ahead, knowing that I "have to wait for those that follow to settle what they shall mean--if indeed that ever gets settled."

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 12, 2004 6:53 PM to Sport