During the last 10 years of his 28 seasons as UConn women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma’s voice has steadily begun to carry farther and have more of an impact as it relates to women’s basketball, the Big East and now events such as the national tragedy last week in Newtown.
When he says something, people tend to listen, whether they agree or not. When he makes a suggestion, people tend to consider it. And when he does something like donate $80,000 with his wife Kathy to start an academic scholarship fund at UConn for the families of the Newtown victims, the nation sees it and wants to talk to him about it.
“I’m just a poor little Italian kid, come over from Italy,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know anything. But I do know this: little kids in Italy aren’t afraid to walk down the street because they are going to get shot. They aren’t afraid about being shot in a school. They don’t need to worry about going shopping at the mall. Nor do the little kids in Germany or France.
“Most civilized countries in the world do not have to worry about this stuff. so why do we in this nation have to fear for our children. Why do I have to be afraid for the safety of my grandson. It’s beyond me. I can’t figure it out and no one will ever convince me that it is OK.”
Auriemma appeared on both CNN and MSNBC last week to talk about the scholarship fund. And his point of view about lowering the rim in women’s basketball and begging the Catholic 7 to leave the Big East ASAP have been debated nationally.
“Everyone person who was around on Friday has an opinion about what happened in Newtown,” Auriemma said Saturday after UConn’s 102-45 win over Hartford. “And if someone asks me my opinion about that or about schools leaving the Big East, you sometimes get the nonsense back [from those that don't agree] about ‘What do we care, he’s only a women’s basketball coach. His opinion doesn’t count. That’s fine. I understand. You are going to offend some people and others may agree with you.
“I think people ask me opinion on things not because I am a women’s basketball coach, but because they know I am going to offer an honest opinion. If you ask me a question on a national issue, I will tell you what I think and I’ve been doing it for 28 years now.
“I don’t feel like I have a tremendous responsibility [to be the voice of his sport]. If I am not asked, I won’t offer an opinion. But what amazes me is how many people that are in the position to influence public opinion, at a much higher level than I am, refuse to comment or offer an opinion because of what it might mean to their careers, either in politics or any arena in which they don’t want the perception people have to them to change.
“So what you get instead are stock answers and cliches, canned responses to important questions. I’ve never felt like that was [his style] and I go back all the way to when I was a child. I said what I honestly thought and it hasn’t changed.
“The only thing that has changed is, when I say something more people are paying attention to it and reacting to it. To tell you the truth, I wish I could say more about things, even if people continue to say that my opinion does not matter. I wish I could say I lot of things I actually believe. Unlike a lot of people, I went to college, I keep up with what’s going on in the world. I read the newspaper and books.
“I am not trying to get re-elected. I don’t have a constituency to report to, corporate sponsors who may bail out on me. And when people contact me to tell me they don’t care what I have to say, I think to myself, ‘Well, you must care or you wouldn’t be contacting me to tell me I am full of it.