Two credible people ... and more questions than answers
Our relationship hasn't always been cotton candy and rainbows. Disagreements? We've had a few. But it is without a hint of doubt that I believe no other media person in the country knows Geno Auriemma better than I.
We've known each other for 16 years. We've been, conservatively, in dozens (and dozens) of cities, hotels, gin mills and social settings long before the games began and long after they ended. He came to my wedding. We've been together for World Series games, Super Bowls and even New Year's Eve.
I write this not to be some depthless name dropper, but as a baseline for what follows.
It begins here: I don't want to believe the details of Kelley Hardwick's lawsuit against him.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the results of a day's worth of phone calls, e-mails and interviews on Tuesday didn't have me concerned.
Hardwick, a security director for the NBA and WNBA, alleged Monday that Auriemma, also the coach of the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, "followed, grabbed and tried to forcibly kiss her" at a hotel during a basketball tournament in Russia in 2009.
The suit also alleges that Auriemma retaliated against Hardwick by successfully demanding her removal as the top security official for the women's team at the London Olympics, a position she held in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).
Hardwick's motives were questioned in several places Tuesday. But sources in the NBA and WNBA consistently vouched for Hardwick's character.
"If this goes down the way I believe it will," one source said, "people will be surprised who will come to (Hardwick's) aid. That includes players."
That line changes everything.
Because what if players really do come to Hardwick's defense?
Could Auriemma continue to coach them?
Would USA Basketball allow it?
Would it fracture the team?
Maybe I'm being presumptuous. And it's certainly possible the players wouldn't say anything until the trial for Hardwick's claim of employment discrimination. It's also possible that a trial wouldn't happen until the Olympics have concluded. But given that Hardwick wants her old job back and that the Olympics arrive soon, might a few players step out and say something in support to, if nothing else, sway public opinion?
Several conversations about Hardwick on Tuesday produced the same results. She is a no-nonsense, hardworking, professional with a law school degree. She is married with a family, does not tolerate fools and as a former New York City undercover narcotics detective, wouldn't waste anyone's time with frivolousness.
"Everyone likes her," Connecticut Sun forward, former UConn great and U.S. Olympic forward Asjha Jones said. Jones was part of the trip in question to Russia as well as other USA Basketball trips with Hardwick.
"You're always surprised when you see a thing like this. We just do our jobs and we don't know what goes on behind the scenes," she said. "We're on the court, we play ball, then we go off on our own."
Sun forward and Olympic center Tina Charles: "(Hardwick) did her job well. She had to protect us, make sure we got to places. She was very welcoming, as was everyone else on staff with USA Basketball."
Sun guard Kara Lawson, a member of the 2008 Olympic team: "I get along great with Kelley. She's very professional."
Sources said Tuesday that Auriemma grew irritated with Hardwick on USA Basketball trips for overstepping her bounds as head of security and talking to players about, among other things, coaching.
"Not with me," Jones said. "That's not her job."
Charles said she had no knowledge of that.
The day produced a particular illustration of Hardwick that Auriemma's supporters might not like.
Still, I must admit: I've heard Auriemma's detractors call him every name in the dictionary. But I have never - never, never, never - heard anyone with a shred of credibility question his morality.
I've been out a lot of late nights with him. Behind the scenes. I never saw a hint of inappropriate behavior. Several of Auriemma's colleagues not in the media, current and former, agreed Tuesday.
Meghan Culmo, a former UConn player, CPTV analyst and close family friend, has been in Auriemma's company in virtually every capacity. She is a de facto family member.
"I've never seen anything close to inappropriate," she said.
Culmo also said that Auriemma gave her husband, Angelo, some advice before their wedding: "The best thing you can do for your kids," he said, "is to love their mother."
Several of Auriemma's friends wonder whether this suit is really about Auriemma or the "glass ceiling" in the NBA for female employees, to which Hardwick refers in the lawsuit. Hardwick's lawsuit is another charge involving sexual harassment against the NBA.
All of which makes some pithy conclusion to this impossible.
Auriemma can't address the charges right now. He released a statement through USA Basketball on Monday calling the charges "false," but will not comment further.
I can only judge Auriemma on what I know and what I've seen. Such behavior is out of character for him.
But the evidence compiled Tuesday raises more questions than provides clear answers.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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