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Reflections on a Mentor and a Knight

It’s no secret I’m a fan of ESPN’s30 for 30. I’ve gushed over episodes on this blog and social media for years and even have a list of my five favorite episodes (looking at you, Christian Laettner and the Fab Five!). The storytelling draws you into the human plight associated with each tale and introduces complexities that those who watched the situations unfold through headlines often don’t know. And I’ve been a few degrees separated from some of the episodes, which always makes for greater investment in a story.

An episode that came out last month brought it even closer to my heart and brain and I’m still processing the experience.

“The Last Days of Knight” debuted in April and it centered on Indiana University’s handling of Bob Knight’s tenure and departure as a Hoosier. As you can imagine, the story was explosive, and nobody was painted in a positive light.

Personally, though, the piece was a kick to my gut. Watching the episode has brought about an emotional rollercoaster that I’d not experienced in years.

For those who don’t know, my mentor was Christopher Simpson, who played a role in ESPN’s telling of the tale as the vice president and spokesman for IU and his portrayal was less than flattering. And, unfortunately, Christopher passed away years ago; his participation was through archived clips and written word, which didn’t allow for context or clarification with the benefit of retrospection.

Having worked closely with Christopher during my years at the University of Colorado, Simpson Communications and SimpsonScarborough, I knew he had a strong personality that many commented was gruff, but what I experienced was someone who was tough yet fair. He expected a lot from me as an employee but allowed me to learn from him firsthand on the frontline of higher education crises. And in a crisis, he ramped up his empathy for our clients since he knew what it felt like to be on the tumultuous front lines and to have your reputation and your institution’s in your hands.

When I first met Christopher, he was a few years past Bob Knight’s departure and what I knew of the story was Christopher’s account of events. What I saw in the piece gave me pause. If Indiana had been my crisis client, there were several moments where I would have taken Christopher to task and told him the smugness being portrayed by IU was not serving the institution well and that his boss looked incredibly weak and he needed to double his efforts to bolster his leadership.

And here’s where my emotional rollercoaster began. In my head, I giggled at how he would have fought back as I critiqued his approach and word choices. And then I was sad, because I realized I’ve forgotten some of his mannerisms and quirks that were captured so vividly in the video clips. It is very difficult to hear Bob Knight’s final comments and not be disappointed with his lack of introspection and responsibility and his continued hate. And I finished my rollercoaster ride by being thankful that I knew and learned from such an amazing mentor.

If you watch the episode, send me an email or a tweet. I’d love to know what you thought. And if you knew Christopher, I’m always open to hearing a memory.