A Brief List of Epic Meltdowns
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it probably wouldn’t take much for any of us to make the news for totally the wrong reasons.
By Eugene S. Robinson
There’s always that weirdly quiet moment before the storm.
And in the grip of an overwhelming emotion that causes people to cruise headlong beyond common sense into ill-advised, our considered subject has a brief pause where they frame the truism: Sometimes the best thing about having control is losing it.
And so they do.
At podiums, in press conferences, in moments too loose and in moments too tightly wound, humans become, well, human. Forthwith our remembrance of the top three epic meltdowns of the past and one we’re right in the midst of.
1. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
The Right Honorable Mayor Rob Ford seems laboratory-made for meltdown. When articles about you use words like “outspoken,” “controversial,” and ultimately “embattled,” and your public press resume includes videos of you smoking crack cocaine, and then a Chris Farley-esque drunken rant during which you threaten to murder adversaries, real or imagined, you are on some quantum-level meltdown action. And this does not even include broadsides at “Orientals,” an explanation for the crack smoking that involves an admission of excessive drinking, and apologizing for talking about oral sex a bit too much and to the wrong people, like employees and reporters.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK: There is none. As of press time Mayor Rob Ford is still standing tall. Or laying low. Or whatever. Perfectly poised between a “bad patch” and “needing to spend some more time with his family,” he and his brother just landed a deal for a new TV talk show. We can hardly wait.
2. Bobby Knight
It’s been statistically documented that there are cultural differences when it comes to anger. For example, Asians are slower to anger than White guys. Which brings us to basketball coach Bobby Knight: None whiter and none faster to anger, Knight became the poster boy for bad behavior. Throwing chairs, screaming at the slightest provocation, arrests for assault, choking co-workers and getting tossed from an unprecedented 20 games during college basketball games he coached. With a head coaching record of 902 wins vs. 371 losses, Knight was widely lauded as a genius. And a lunatic. Who also inspired fanatical devotion. An odd admixture but it worked from 1962 to 2008.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK: Indiana player Neil Reed alleged that Knight had choked him during a 1997 practice. There were requisite denials and then video. He rode this out but you can’t hold a good, angry, screaming man down. Even though Knight got bounced from Indiana, he stayed in basketball until 2008. Slapping secretly? We have neither confirmations nor denials.
3. Dennis Green
The 64-year-old Dennis Green has had a life lived well in American football. Played in the late 1960s for Iowa as a running back and stepped into a coaching career in 1973, Green won some games and lost some games (his NFL record was an undistinguished 117 wins against 102 losses), eventually retiring in 2011. But not before…
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK: As head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, Green saw significant success. Until a loss to the Chicago Bears in October 2006 resulted in a question at a post-game presser about how you could blow a 20-point lead. Green exploded, smashing his fists into the podium, “The Bears are what we thought they were. They’re what we thought they were. We played them in pre-season — who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it’s bullshit? Bullshit! We played them in the third game — everybody played three quarters — the Bears are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”
4. Illinois Republican House Rep. Mike Bost
State House Representatives are a relatively undistinguished lot some of the time. More populous than senators, the 118* Illinois representatives, most of them, will serve long careers that you will never ever hear about (almost like Mike Bost).
Until you do.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK: Given only 20 minutes to review a 200-page bill to overhaul state pensions in May of 2012 was all long-serving Republican Representative Mike Bost could take and Republican Representative Mike Bost could take no more. Throwing papers, screaming, arm waving, frightening small children, Bost did any and all of it.
A passionate public servant? About something other than vacation time? Indeed.
* Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly stated the number of representatives in the Illinois House.