Media exploits Haskins’ tattoo policy

Todd Zolecki

INDIANAPOLIS — The days leading to the Final Four gave the media plenty of time to explore every aspect of the Gophers men’s basketball team. Once they discovered Coach Clem Haskins’ policy against players’ tattoos and earrings, the media made sure to uncover this potentially explosive information.
Haskins, for the record, believes earrings and tattoos show a lack of discipline among young people and those who guide them, such as high school and grade school coaches.
Still, a few Gophers wear an earring when Haskins is not around. A few others, such as Bobby Jackson, Courtney James and Russ Archambault, have tattoos, which they can’t hide from the 11-year Minnesota coach.
“I had my tattoo before I got here,” Jackson said Friday. “Coach doesn’t like tattoos and earrings, but we understand that. But there isn’t any way we can take them off, so we’re going to have to stick with it. You listen to Coach. He knows what’s best for the game. We don’t bring earrings or anything because he finds everything.”
Players accept Haskins’ request to remove earrings during practices and games. He hopes his team’s public image can buck a current trend.
“Athletes are high profile individuals,” Haskins said. “And when they’re at school with caps on backwards, with tattoos on, with earrings, then the student body will copy that style. When coaches let that go because they want to win a game or state championship or get the blue chip athlete, that’s wrong. I don’t believe in that.”
Haskins said his philosophy, which some think is old-fashioned, doesn’t make his players feel like they’re in the army. He said his team still has fun.
Players have accepted Haskins’ wishes.
Jackson said he respects Haskins’ style and what he brings to the sport. He said if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be at Minnesota.
Other players across the country don’t agree with Haskins or Jackson. Kentucky forwards Jared Prickett and Ron Mercer are two of them. Prickett said it’s a freedom of speech choice.
“The times have changed since (Haskins) has been in college,” Mercer said. “But I wouldn’t say a person is less disciplined by certain things they do or what they have on their bodies. It’s their choice — and it is. You can go out and do whatever, as long as you get it done on the court and as long as you present yourself well.”
That’s just the problem, Haskins said. He believes a player who walks around with his baseball cap cocked to one side, an earring in one ear and a tattoo on his arm doesn’t represent himself well.
Haskins said his players need to look like gentlemen. Those beliefs, he admits, can get him into trouble.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I will lose some players that want to come to Minnesota. But they would not come without wearing earrings, and when that happens they probably have no coach.”
Athletes like Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman have no place among American role models, Haskins said.
“This game has meant everything to me,” Haskins said. “I never wanted to be president, a lawyer or doctor. I wanted to play basketball and be a coach and work with young people. I think today we’ve let coaches be disrespectful of the game if you let people do things.
“Everybody is a copy cat. And the coaches are copy cats. They’ll sell out for anything. I don’t think that’s right. I will never do that.”