By Jamie H. Vaught
Bullying and Dick Vitale.
Yes, the famous basketball broadcaster once was a victim of bullying when he was a young kid growing up in his blue-collar New Jersey roots.
As you know, bullying, unfortunately, is a serious problem found in many communities, usually involving unwelcome, aggressive behavior among school-aged children.
And ESPN's Vitale -- who was in Lexington and Louisville for last week's college basketball games -- openly discussed bullying during last summer's interview at his Florida home with this columnist and in his new 256-page book, titled "It's Awesome, Baby!" (Ascend Books).
Added Vitale, who also had a book signing at a Louisville suburb of Middletown, "The book allows me to share my ups and downs during my career and life such as losing my eyesight in one of my eyes when I was a kid and getting fired from my 'Dream Job' coaching in the NBA. My up moments including my 36 years at ESPN. In the book I talk about the 'one and done' and I talk about the impact of John Calipari and Rick Pitino."
The Vitale book, which is also written with longtime sports columnist Dick Weiss and writer Joan Williamson, is an enjoyable read, comprising 75 self-contained chapters, revealing the story of his remarkable life, basketball dreams, memories and opinions. It is also packed with many never-before-seen color pictures.
The personable Vitale has fascinating chapters about meeting the Pope in Rome, his wife Lorraine, Calipari, social media, partial blindness and bullying, Kentucky Derby, major league baseball, scaring moment about losing his voice and throat surgery, Bobby Knight, Presidents, among others.
"A lot of people don't know this, but I can't see. I am blind in my left eye," Vitale said last summer.
When he was a very little boy, Vitale lost his vision after his eye was poked with a pencil in an accident. He recalled his parents tried to save his eye, going from doctor to doctor. So he ended up wearing a glass eye. Some of the school kids began to bully him and rudely called him names like "One Eye."
Vitale said these incidents caused him considerable pain and he also mentioned in the book that he was even too shy to ask the girls for a date during his teenage years because of that bad eye.
"I always thought it was teasing," he said. "But it was bullying. And I went through a cycle where I would come home (and cry). You know I didn’t want to tell my parents. I’d go to my room and cry because my eye used to drift to the other side but not now. I’ve had an operation.
"(But) I could never look someone straight in the eye, and people would say, ‘Hey, who are you looking at? Can you see us?’ And it would hurt because you couldn’t control it. Yeah, I faced that, but you know what I would advise people? Please don’t hurt people. Be good to people and people will be good to you. I wrote an article about being bullied as a kid and it became an article that got a lot of attention."
Because of his loving parents, Vitale eventually maintained a positive attitude about his eye problem. They encouraged him to reach for the stars.
Commented Vitale, a Catholic who rarely misses a Sunday Mass even when he is on the road, "One, she told me, ‘Richie, don’t even believe 'you can’t. This is America. You can be what you want to be.’ Two, they taught me to always believe 'be good to people.' I must heard that at least 10 times a day, be good to people and people will be good to you. And I’ve tried to use that in my life, every day of my life. I may be 75 but act or feel like 12 because I get excited about life. I try to take care of myself and I tried do anything I can do to help people to the best of my ability."
Well, needless to say, it turned out great for the former college and NBA coach. In 2008, Vitale became a member of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the highest honor given to anyone associated with the sport
By the way, proceeds from the entertaining book will benefit pediatric cancer research, adding to the more than $12 million Vitale has raised for cancer research through his annual gala for The V Foundation. (For more information about The V Foundation or for tickets to the 2015 Dick Vitale Gala, please visit www.jimmyv.org.)
Kentucky coach John Calipari also has written a blurb for Vitale's book. Both are friends and even needled each other last week over Calipari's two-platoon system.
"There is no better ambassador for the game of basketball than Dick Vitale," Coach Cal wrote. "His enthusiasm for the sport and the people in it are unmatched, but it doesn't stop there with Dick. He has championed a fight and used his platform like none other in helping to raise millions in the fight against cancer. He is a true PTPer for the game and in life."
Whether you like Vitale announcing style or not, you certainly can't argue with Calipari's point or remark.
* * * *
Vitale and Mark Jones will call the Kentucky-South Carolina hoops matchup on Saturday for ESPN. The game tips off at 12 noon.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.