This commercial portrayed us consumers, coach Knight’s character, as angry bullies intimidating employees. Given the increase of bullying and harassment incidents in college campuses and sporting events, using intimidation and bullying for the sake of getting a discount on insurance policy is both offensive and disappointing.
This ad aired days after a group of students from Southern Mississippi loudly harassed a Puerto Rican basketball player, Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez. These students mocked this prominent athlete just for being Latino, demanding to see his green card.
Corporations like State Farm that help promote bullying, violence, and glorify individuals with a history of racist comments are irresponsible and shameless. Coach Bobby Knight has a long history as a bully and has made public racist remarks against Latinos, and Puerto Ricans in particular. And there’s no way that State Farm can claim they did not know the consequences of their actions. A simple search of coach Knight's documented instances of using violence and insensitive comments to bully his critics is quite extensive and shocking. State Farm was looking for publicity through shock value.
Let’s take a look at just a few of coach Bobby Knight’s many incidents of violence and bullying:
• During the 1979 Pan American Games, coach Bobby Knight punched a police officer before a July practice session. Knight was convicted in absentia and evaded justice. Coach Knight mocked the incident and was quoted in Sports Illustrated making harsh racist comments. He said of Puerto Ricans: "F-'em, f-'em all....They only thing they know how to do is grow bananas."
• In February 1985, Knight threw a chair across the court to protest a referee's call during a game against the rival Purdue Boilermakers.
• During an April 1988 interview with Connie Chung, Knight stated "I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." Knight's comment was in reference to an Indiana basketball game in which he felt the referees were making poor calls against the Hoosiers.
• In March 1992, prior to the NCAA regional finals, controversy erupted after Knight mock whipped Indiana player Calbert Cheaney (who is black) during practice. Several black leaders complained at the racial connotations of the act.
• A video in 1997 showed Knight grabbing former IU player Neil Reed in a choking manner during a practice.
• On February 19, 2000, Clarence Doninger, Knight's boss, alleged to have been physically threatened by the coach during a confrontation after a game.
And this is just a short list of the many acts of bullying and physical intimidation that forced the University of Indiana to fire him.
State Farm should be ashamed to have associated their brand with an individual that has documented anger issues and has openly expressed ignorant denigrating remarks. The fact that this ad campaign glorifies bullying at a time when students are committing suicide after being bullied, and the number of hate crimes against Latinos is at an all time high, is simply unacceptable. If State Farm cares about their consumers, they should pull their ads immediately and issue a heartfelt apology.
It’s time that corporations realize that bullying and harassment are very serious acts of physical and mental aggression that inflict irreparable damage to children, youth, and adults of any race or gender. Just when the New Jersey Courts convicted the student who bullied Tyler Clementi into committing suicide, State Farm launches their latest ad promoting bullying and violence. This ad campaign is unacceptable. State Farm must turn this shameful incident into a positive opportunity to promote tolerance and respect.
However, the response from a State Farm spokesperson has been that this was simply a humorous way to deliver their message of lower rates. Humorous? Promoting violent behavior against State Farm’s own employees isn’t funny. Glorifying a convicted bully with a long list of violent acts against youth, Latinos and African Americans, adds insult to injury, and is in fact irresponsible.
Young people viewing the NCAA Tournament are watching this reprehensible ad, and State Farm is sending them a horrible message. Putting an end to this ad campaign, will send a clear signal to TV viewers, our community, and to consumers that State Farm Insurance is a socially responsible corporation.
Let comedians deliver humor. State Farm should stick to selling insurance.
Rafael A. Fantauzzi is the President & CEO of the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC) and a board member of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR).