Former college basketball player Neil Reed died last Thursday from apparent heart complications. He was just 36 years old. After a turbulent junior season at Indiana, Reed transferred to Southern Miss. His greatest legacy should be his family—he is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two daughters, Marley and Presley. Since 2007, Reed lived in Santa Maria, California. He worked at Pioneer Valley High School, where he coached football, basketball, golf and taught physical education. By many accounts, he was well liked and highly regarded.
Fair or not, Reed will best be remembered as the player who Bob Knight choked. Reed told an important truth that was, by design, meant to never be exposed. When Reed first alleged Knight choked him, Reed was immediately discredited.
Reed’s courageous act to tell the truth about what happened to him at the hands of Bobby Knight deserves another look, both because it is an important part of Reed’s legacy and because of what happened at Penn State around the same time.
Reed first claimed abuse in 1997, shortly after he left IU. At the time, no other teammate or coach, manager or trainer corroborated his claims. Not surprisingly, the allegations were quickly swept under.
Reed first claimed abuse in 1997
The story resurfaced in March 2000, when CNN/SI investigated Knight’s erratic behavior and why several high-profile players transferred early.
Now that the choking incident was a national story, Indiana basketball players and officials reacted by reflexively backing Bob Knight.
Indiana basketball trainer Tim Garl was adamant that Reed was fabricating these charges. Said Garl, “The choking thing never happened. Give me a lie detector.” Garl did what blind loyalists do: Support their guy.
Tim Garl was adamant that Reed was fabricating these charges
The most sinister denial came from IU vice president Christopher Simpson, who was chief media spokesman for then IU president Dr. Myles Brand.
“Simpson said he has never seen Knight physically abuse a player, although he acknowledged Knight yells. ’But don’t most coaches?’ Simpson said. He added: ‘If CNN is saying Neil Reed said it, then I question anything Neil Reed says.’”
For three years, Indiana’s president, the late Dr. Brand knew about Reed’s allegations, but chose to ignore. Even worse, he also allowed several IU officials, including his head of communications, to shift blame to Reed, the victim. And we wonder why people are terrified to come forward with the truth?
Then, with CNN poking around, IU launched an official investigation, led by two IU trustees, John Walda and Fred Eichhorn. In a book on crisis management, Christopher Simpson admitted that the investigation of Reed’s allegations was not at all legitimate: “We knew we would get hammered short term for investigating ourselves, but at least we would retain control of the investigation which we couldn’t do if we had brought in an entirely objective outsider.”
Reed’s allegation likely would have faded away the second time, but CNN received a package that contained videotape evidence of the 1997 incident, which clearly showed Knight choked Reed.
CNN received a package that contained videotape evidence of the 1997 incident
That was the beginning of the end for Bob Knight at Indiana. Shortly after, Brand issued a “zero tolerance” policy, which Knight quickly violated. While Dr. Brand is widely praised for firing Bob Knight, for three years Brand and his top aid quashed Reed’s allegations and tolerated a school-wide conspiracy against him.
As president of the NCAA, Dr. Brand crafted his image as an advocate for student-athletes. I wonder if Neil Reed agreed.
Neil Reed knew what he was up against, as he told CNN in 2000: “[It] seems so strange that the only weapon I have to fight this battle with is the truth and it seems like such a small weapon, you would think the truth is what everyone wants to know and everyone wants to hear. But it’s not what everyone wants to know.”
Pat Reed, Neil’s mom, recognized the courage it took for her son to come forward: “There are fewer of these young boys, that’s the whole point and they have no power, they have no forum to speak, they are no one, they are kids and they often don’t get the chance to express the reason that they left or what has happened in their life.”
Neil Reed’s young daughters should know how heroic and brave their father was—and that he was an important catalyst for positive change for student-athletes. Today, athletes and anyone else who allege unfair or illegal treatment deserve to be heard. Social media is a great opportunity for college basketball players to band together and support each other.
When Hoops Family launches next month, we will always remember Neil Reed and draw strength from his legacy. May he rest in peace.
About Marc Isenberg
Marc Isenberg is a nationally-recognized athlete advocate for high school, college and pro athletes. A national columnist for Basketball Times, Marc is a frequent speaker at elite basketball camps and athletic programs and teams, including UCLA, RbkU and the Orlando Magic. In 2012, Marc, with Nolan Smith of the Portland Trail Blazers, founded Hoops Family , an organization devoted to educating and mentoring basketball players—and advocating on their behalf.
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