'Careless Words' Cost a Coach His Job

In American society today, some words just can't be apologized away.

May 3, 2005

In American society today, some words just can't be apologized away.

Larry Cochell, the baseball coach at the University of Oklahoma, resigned Sunday night after several days of controversy over his use of the word "nigger" in an interview with ESPN. Last Tuesday, speaking to an announcer for the cable sports network, Cochell said, in praising the freshman player Joe Dunigan III for staying in college, that there was "no nigger in him." According to news reports, the coach used the word in a second interview that day, in which he used the word "honkies" to describe certain white people, too.

University officials only learned of the coach's comments on Friday, when a reporter for ESPN called seeking comment for a story about the matter. Oklahoma announced that afternoon that it was investigating the situation, and Cochell issued a statement in which he apologized for his comments and said they did not accurately reflect his views. 

The Daily Oklahoman reported (free registration required) Sunday that Dunigan and his father had forgiven Cochell and urged the university and others to do the same. 

"He has apologized," Joe Dunigan Jr., the player's father, told the Oklahoman. "Those words are powerful and derisive. They were inappropriate and offensive to African Americans. But he is a man who has done so many good things in his life."

Dunigan added: "We all say things that we don't mean, and I hope people down there don't color him as a racist because he made a mistake."

Later that day, though, Cochell sent David L. Boren, Oklahoma's president, a resignation letter that said he he did "not want to be the cause of any person having a mistaken impression about our university," which he said "has done more to create a true sense of family based on mutual respect" than any other institution in the country.

The president accepted Cochell's resignation Sunday night. “I have tonight accepted the resignation of Coach Larry Cochell as head baseball coach at the university," Boren said in a prepared statement. "No one takes any pleasure in what has happened. A good and caring man has made a terrible mistake for which he must assume responsibility."


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