The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Coach Charles Driesell stood shoulder-to-shoulder yesterday on Capitol Hill, pledging themselves, in the name of Len Bias and American youth, to fight in a war against cocaine. This odd couple was both an inspiring and an unsettling sight. Both men are obviously sincere in their convictions. Yet each should be frisked for a private agenda.
Certainly Jackson was preaching from the heart when he said, "Our culture must reject drugs as a form of entertainment, recreation and escape. . . . We've lost more lives to dope than we did to the Ku Klux Klan rope. Movie makers and songwriters would not glamorize the KKK. But they will glamorize drugs as a thrill, or sex without love, or violence as a solution to problems. . . . And those things drugs, violence and casual sex are at the root of why our schools may be the most dangerous place in our society."
No one could doubt Driesell's anguish when he said, "These drugs are not recreational. They're killers. . . . In about two seconds, Leonard's life was snuffed out. Cocaine scares me, and I hope it scares everyone. . . . One minute he was happy, excited. Then somebody said, 'Try this.' Now he's gone because of one mistake. Leonard went along with the gang, and he paid the price."
Others can debate whether the urgency of Jackson's causes, and the intelligence of his arguments, justify his swiftness in racing to these gaudy spotlights.
Driesell is a more obvious fellow. "Something told me to be here today," he said. Common sense, probably. He could use a new suit of righteous armor. With time, the sorrow of Bias' death will recede. And, inevitably, the problems of the University of Maryland's whole basketball program, and Driesell in particular, will come more into focus. Bias did indeed go along with the gang. But whose gang was it?
It was mostly Lefty's gang.
At the moment, Driesell is not willing to consider that he or his program should in any way, no matter how indirect, accept some responsibility for Bias.
Unfortunately, that is characteristic of Driesell.
Nothing marks the difference between the adult and the child more clearly than the ability to take responsibility for his own actions. The child thinks, "Don't get caught. Don't get blamed." The adult thinks, "What does this really mean?" His first reaction is usually to take more than his share of blame.
The more we look at the Bias death, the less responsible -- the less adult -- the Maryland basketball program looks. "In loco parentis" will be the last charge leveled against Driesell.
He has had experience in sweeping unpleasantness under the Terrapins' rug. Whether the problem concerns Herman Veal, Larry Gibson, Adrian Branch or Steve Rivers, Driesell often seems overly concerned with controlling damage to Maryland's public image and making sure ol' Dean Smith doesn't get anything juicy to tell recruits.
Within an hour of Bias' death, Driesell brought his players to his house. They prayed together. Then the coach told them to be careful what they told the press and the police. That's Driesell. Concerned, homey, loyal to his players -- yet utterly oblivious to the greater damage he does everyone by such a clumsy attempt at putting a Band-Aid on a car wreck.
Nothing is easier than explaining Driesell's fierce loyalty to players. Driesell is, essentially, a large, bumptious, often immature man leading young men. It's no surprise that they like him. And it's no surprise that top athletes come to play for him. He's like a big brother, full of bluff and bluster, and he plays the sort of fast-and-loose basketball that they enjoy.
Unfortunately, it's also no surprise that some Maryland players pay little attention to their coach. During games or after them. Before busting a play in the final minutes or busting a team curfew or perhaps a law, some Maryland players don't appear to take Driesell into serious consideration. Perhaps they think that, although he may scream at them in private, he'll try to cover for them. Soon, in the "boys-will-be-boys" tradition, all is forgotten. Until next time.
The harshest justice for Driesell is to judge him by his actions, not his words. As former academic counselor Larry Roper said, the problem at Maryland is in the discrepancy between "articulated values and actual practices."
At the moment, Driesell isn't commenting much. Yet when he does, it shows his mindset. "I doubt if Leonard Bias had ever smoked a cigarette or drank a can of beer," he said yesterday. By every account, Bias was a decent young man; but by every account, he had some hard-case friends. Didn't Driesell know?
As for Bias getting zero credits last semester, Driesell dismissed it, saying, "That's no big tragedy. Len Elmore did the same thing, and he went to Harvard Law School."
The immature part of Driesell, and it is his weakest side, tends to have a selective perception of reality. He sees what suits him and may honestly believe the rest does not exist. That, in part, is why Maryland has had so many problems, and so many embarrassments, in the last decade.
By the time the grand jury finishes examining Driesell's program, we will all know a great deal more about it. What's sad is that one of the most sincerely surprised people may be Driesell.