Courtside

06.19.13

Wins, Losses, and Loving The Game

Women’s basketball coach Vivian Stringer is the subject of a new ESPN documentary. Adrienne Vogt on the Rutgers legend and the fallout from the Imus fiasco.

“F.A.M.I.L.Y.” is a word you’ll hear or see a lot at Rutgers University sporting events. The acronym stands for “Forget About Me, I Love You.”

Perhaps no one else embodies that quite as much as women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer. Already a legend in her own right, Stringer is the subject of a new ESPN documentary, Coach. The movie, executive produced by Whoopi Goldberg and directed by Bess Kargman, debuted June 18 on ESPNw.com to kick off the Nine for IX series. It took home the award for “best documentary short” at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

Full disclosure: I’m a Rutgers alumna. And sometimes it seems like my school makes headlines for all the wrong reasons (see: former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice throwing both balls and gay slurs at his players, and brand-new athletic director Julie Hermann’s own past of allegedly calling her players “whores” ).

But Stringer is a beacon of consistency at Rutgers. The movie highlights her many accomplishments, including being the first coach—male or female—to lead three different colleges to the Final Four. She also coached in the 2004 Olympics. And in 2009, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in the same class as Michael Jordan.

Stringer’s love for the game is palpable in the movie. “[I’m] able to do something that I love, [while] most of us do something that we have to do. And more importantly, it’s my soul. I just like to hear the sound of the squeak of the rubber on the gym floor. Just to hear the squeak of that is exciting,” she said.

And that brings us to Imus. My blood boiled when the documentary revisited radio shock-jock Don Imus’s comments that the Rutgers women’s basketball team looked like “nappy-headed hoes” after their loss to Tennessee in the 2007 NCAA Championship Game. Imus, and his ridiculous cowboy hats, was subject to some full-out Jersey rage.

But while Stringer and her team ultimately decided to publicly accept his apology, she had some stern words about the whole situation: “It’s not about the Rutgers girls’ basketball team, it’s about women. Are women hoes? Think about that. Would you have wanted your daughter to have been called that?”

In the documentary, Stringer admitted that Imus’s comments hurt her personally. Because of her team’s work ethic that brought it from the bottom of the rankings to the top, she said it “should’ve been the group that’s held before little girls and said, ‘This is what dreams are made of.’”

Stringer accomplished all this, despite battling breast cancer, coping with the sudden death of her husband and having a daughter with meningitis. The troubles of her personal life came as a surprise to me, since she always looks so composed and focused.

Stringer represents something much bigger than Rutgers. She represents any woman who’s been bullied or attacked, and who has risen above it all to display grace under pressure. If you want to witness a true class-act in action, take a mere 16 minutes out of your day to watch this documentary.