Letter to Dave Winfield regarding the 1972 Ohio State-Minnesota basketball game
May 24, 2011
c/o San Diego Padres
P.O. Box 122000
San Diego, CA 92112
Dear Mr. Winfield:
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Richard Pennington. I am a native of the USA but have been living in Korea since late 2007. I have written 18 books—16 of them pertaining to sports history.
I am, of course, aware of your superb 22-year career with the Padres, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins and Indians. I always admired your skills as a hitter, fielder and base runner. And for what it’s worth, you gave a good interview. You were obviously an intelligent and well-spoken man.
My letter is not about baseball but the upcoming 40-year anniversary of the 1972 Minnesota-Ohio State basketball game at Williams Arena. It has been called, for good reason, the darkest day in the history of college hoops. You, Clyde Turner, Corky Taylor, Ron Behagen and Jim Brewer may prefer to say this is “old news” and all is forgotten. But history does not work that way. Should it be forgotten or—to put it differently—swept under the rug? No.
Although I was not in Minneapolis that night, I have done a fair amount of research on the game and would like you to tell me whether I have my facts wrong. The halftime incident between Luke Witte and your teammate Bob Nix was really of no consequence. Your coach, Bill Musselman, and other Gophers later sought to somehow direct blame or responsibility to Witte but that was simply not true.
I realize it was a hotly contested game, with the Big 10 title on the line. But with less than a minute to go, it was clear that the Buckeyes were going to win. Turner, Taylor, Behagen, Brewer and you, enraged at the thought of losing to a predominantly European-American team, then went berserk. Turner committed a blatant foul on Witte when he was going in for a layup, Taylor pretended to give him a helping hand and then kicked him in the groin, Behagen stomped on his head and neck, Brewer whacked OSU’s Dave Merchant, and you leapt on top of Mark Wagar and gave him five strong shots.
All of this and more happened over the course of 90 seconds, as is well documented. Some UM people have attempted to characterize it as a “fight” when in fact it was a one-sided assault. Would that Witte, Merchant, Wagar and the others were better fighters, able and willing to return blow for blow. Silly boys, they thought they had come to Minny to play a basketball game that night! Was it or was it not a racial attack? The facts are plain: All of those doing the hitting and kicking were black, and those on the receiving end were European American. Nobody laid a hand on the two black players on the Ohio State squad.
Nearly 40 years have passed since that awful night, and I have a few questions to ask if you don’t mind. First, do you think the punishment by the University of Minnesota, Big 10 and NCAA was adequate in light of your actions and those Turner, Taylor, Behagen and Brewer? Second, should criminal charges have been filed? Third, were you and your teammates at all concerned that you were inflicting serious harm on your opponents? (Witte suffered a concussion and a scratched cornea, and needed 29 stitches.) Fourth, what was the source of your anger—apart from losing to a mostly European-American team? Fifth, how were you able to avoid any negative ramifications during your long pro baseball career? And finally, did you ever apologize to Wagar for chasing him down and giving him a pounding?
I welcome your response.
301-ho, Teheranro 4-gil
Seoul 135-080 Korea