By JOHN RABY (AP Sports Writer)
West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins has agreed to a three-game suspension, a $1 million salary reduction and sensitivity training for using a homophobic slur during a radio interview, the university announced Wednesday.
The agreement allows Huggins to keep his job as the school’s coach, but the blunder will leave a lasting mark on his Hall of Fame career.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and athletic director Wren Baker said in a joint statement that the university has “made it explicitly clear to Coach Huggins that any incidents of similar derogatory and offensive language will result in immediate termination.”
Under the agreement, Huggins and all current and future athletics coaching staff will be required to undergo training that will be developed by the university’s LGBTQ+ Center to address all aspects of inequality, including homophobia, transphobia and sexism. Huggins also will be required to meet with LGBTQ+ leaders from across the state.
“We will never truly know the damage that has been done by the words said in those 90 seconds,” Gee and Baker said. “Words matter and they can leave scars that can never be seen. But words can also heal. And by taking this moment to learn more about another’s perspective, speak respectfully and lead with understanding, perhaps the words ‘do better’ will lead to meaningful change for all.”
Under the agreement, Huggins’ salary of $4.15 million will be reduced by $1 million. That reduction will be used to directly support WVU’s LGBTQ+ Center, as well as a mental health center at the university and other groups that support marginalized communities.
Huggins will be suspended for the first three games of the 2023-24 season. In addition, his contract will be amended from a multi-year agreement to a year-by-year agreement that will begin on May 10 of this year and end on April 30, 2024.
“Over the past 48 hours, I have reflected on the awful words that I shared on a radio program earlier this week,” Huggins said in a separate statement Wednesday. “I deeply regret my actions, the hurt they unfairly caused others and the negative attention my words have brought to West Virginia University.
“West Virginia and West Virginia University are my home. I love this University and know first-hand that the education and experiences students receive here make a difference. I am truly sorry for the damage I have done. And I am grateful for the chance to move forward in a way that positively represents this University and our state.”
Huggins used the slur to refer to Xavier fans on Monday while also denigrating Catholics during an appearance on Cincinnati radio station WLW. The West Virginia athletic department called the comments “offensive” and said it was reviewing the matter.
During the radio show, Huggins was asked about the transfer portal and whether he had a chance of landing a player at West Virginia from Xavier, a Jesuit school.
“Catholics don’t do that,” Huggins said. “I tell you what, any school that can throw rubber penises on the floor and then say they didn’t do it, by God they can get away with anything.
“It was the Crosstown Shootout. What it was, was all those (expletive), those Catholic (expletive), I think.”
In a speech on Wednesday, Xavier President Colleen Hanycz called Huggins’ comments “repulsive and offensive.”
“The deplorable mischaracterizations and homophobic slurs directed towards our LGBTQ+ and our Catholic communities were repulsive and offensive,” Hanycz said before a press event detailing plans for a new medical school. “To those in our Xavier family who were directly targeted and harmed by these hateful words, be assured that you are invaluable members of our Xavier family and you belong here,” Hanycz said. “Your presence makes us better.”
Under the agreement, Huggins also will make a “substantial” donation to Xavier to support its Center for Faith and Justice and Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
Remarks about Catholics have been an issue with Gee in the past. Gee was hired at West Virginia in 2013, a year after he announced his retirement as Ohio State’s president when he came under fire for jokingly referring to “those damn Catholics” at Notre Dame and poking fun at the academic quality of other schools.
Huggins entered the Basketball Hall of Fame last September. In 41 seasons, his teams have gone to 25 NCAA tournaments, finished ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll seven times and had finished under .500 five times. The Mountaineers have 11 NCAA Tournament appearances under Huggins.
Huggins spent 16 seasons at Cincinnati before being fired in 2005 in a power struggle with the school’s president as well as the aftermath of a 2004 drunken driving arrest. After spending one season at Kansas State, Huggins took his dream job at West Virginia, his alma mater, in 2007.
AP College Sports Writer Ralph Russo contributed to this report.
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