One of my favorite novels is Mary Renault’s The King Must Die (1958), a compelling portrait of Theseus, the mythical Greek hero and King of Athens who danced with bulls and slew the dreaded Minotaur. For me, the title says it all. Don’t ask me why, but people in America all seem to have a need to create heroes from among our politicians, movie stars, athletes, rock musicians, etc. We build up “the chosen ones,” I think, just so we can knock them down, to prove to ourselves that they are, after all, no better than we are. At one end of this horrific spectrum we have Abraham, John, Martin and Bobby. I live in fear, daily, about the safety of Barack Obama, what with all the crackpots running around the fringes of our society. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have the media circus surrounding the likes of O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and all our other erstwhile gods as they topple down the lofty firmament that we built for their temporary residence.
Here, at the University of Kansas, I am amused by what’s happening to football coach Mark Mangino. When he coached his team to an Orange Bowl victory two years ago, the man could do no wrong. The school rewarded him with a $1.5 million guaranteed yearly salary through 2010; built him a new football stadium for his team to practice in, then planted trees around the new stadium so no one can spy on his team practicing; and, according to one news report, he was absolved of all his parking tickets, even after he had tracked down a student employee from KU Parking and Transit who had written one of the tickets, and launched a 10-minute expletive-filled tirade against the terrified student.
But that was then, and this is now. After losing five football games in a row this season, Mangino is suddenly undergoing “an internal investigation” because he allegedly poked one of his football players in the chest several weeks ago. This particular football player is willing to suffer all sorts of physical punishment and abuse on the playing field, but being poked in the chest by the coach simply isn’t acceptable or tolerable—especially with 2010 around the corner, with no more guarantees of any sort for the coach.
Well, this is just the beginning of the end. Sit back and watch KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins whittle the Mighty Mangino down to normal size. It’ll happen. Mark my words. The King Must Die.